Republican politicians and conservative activists are launching a ballot campaign to suspend California’s landmark global-warming law, in what they hope will serve as a showcase for a national backlash against climate regulations.
Supporters say they have “solid commitments” of nearly $600,000 to pay signature gatherers for a November initiative aimed at delaying curbs on the greenhouse gas emissions of power plants and factories until the state’s unemployment rate drops.
GOP gubernatorial candidates and Tea Party organizers paint the 2006 law, considered a model for other state and federal efforts, as a job-killing interference in the economy. Talk radio is flailing at what John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou, drive-time hosts on Los Angeles’ KFI-AM (640), call “the global-warming final solution act” promoted by “fascist, Nazi” officials.
“We are on fire,” said Assemblyman Dan Logue (R-Marysville), a sponsor of the proposed initiative. “People are calling from all over the country. This will be the most intense campaign the state has seen in 50 years.”
Mary D. Nichols, chairwoman of the state’s Air Resources Board, which is implementing the law, known as AB 32, called the initiative “a campaign that has to be taken seriously.”
“It would put all our efforts at energy efficiency and renewable energy in the deep freezer for a long time,” she said.
The measure would halt proposed regulations until the state’s jobless rate dips to 5.5% or below for a year. That’s a level that California has not seen since 2007. California has one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates: 12.4%.
The effort to ignite a revolt in the Golden State comes as years of industry-backed campaigns have sown doubts about the scientific consensus behind global warming and as the public has become more concerned about the economy..
A survey by the Pew Research Center found that 28% of the public considers global warming a high priority, a drop of 10 points from 2007. The economy and jobs topped the agenda. Federal climate legislation, after passing the House last year, is stalled in the Senate.
No major California company has endorsed the initiative yet. But Gino DiCaro, a spokesman for the California Manufacturers and Technology Assn. said last month: “The state’s greenhouse reduction program is not a freebie. Large costs foisted on an unemployment-riddled state economy and increased electricity rates . . . are not affordable at this time, if ever.”
Sponsors of the California initiative, including Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Granite Bay), Ted Costa of the People’s Advocate, a Sacramento-based anti-tax group, and Thomas Hiltachk, an attorney with Republican Party ties, have dubbed the measure the California Jobs Initiative.
The official wording of the initiative, however, lies in the hands of Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown, an outspoken advocate of AB 32 and a presumptive Democratic candidate for governor. On Wednesday, his office discarded the “jobs initiative” title in favor of the unwieldy: “Suspends Air Pollution Control Laws Requiring Major Polluters to Report and Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions That Cause Global Warming Until Unemployment Drops Below Specified Level for Full Year.”
Logue, an initiative sponsor, said that the money pledged to the effort is not yet in hand. At least twice as much would have to be raised to guarantee enough valid signatures. Costa, another sponsor, said there were disagreements among supporters about strategy, including how much to rely on the Internet for signature gathering.
Noting the Wall Street Journal’s recent endorsement of the initiative, environmentalists worry that money from around the country will pour into the effort.
“People see California as ground zero in this fight,” said Ann Nothoff, California advocacy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Polluters will do anything to defeat climate legislation in Washington, D.C., even if it means using California as a pawn.”
Industries have lobbied intensely against proposed regulations. Auto manufacturers unsuccessfully sued to overturn rules to slash carbon dioxide emissions from tailpipes. Oil refiners and truckers filed suit this week against a measure to reduce the carbon content of gasoline and diesel.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has made climate change one of his signature issues, is reportedly asking major companies to remain on the sidelines. The governor “absolutely opposes” the initiative, said spokesman Aaron McLear, adding that it is “deceptively written to protect big polluters and would keep us from staying No. 1 in the country in creating clean tech jobs.”
GOP gubernatorial candidate Steve Poizner has endorsed the initiative. His rival, Meg Whitman, contends that AB 32 “will discourage job creation and could kill any recovery,” and vowed to impose a one-year moratorium on AB 32 on her first day as governor.
Businesses that benefit from greenhouse gas curbs are meeting with environmentalists to mobilize against the initiative. Many are connected to Silicon Valley’s deep pockets.
Suspending AB 32 “would be the real job-killer,” said Susan Frank of the California Business Alliance for a Green Economy. “The mere passage of AB 32 has generated green job growth even as the rest of the economy has contracted.” A December study by Next 10, a San Francisco-based think tank, found that jobs in California green businesses grew 36% from 1995 to 2008, while total employment expanded only 13%.
A report on the proposed rollback of AB 32 by the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office last month said that the measure could lead to greater short-term profits for some businesses, but would dampen investments in clean technology and green jobs.
The report said the initiative would invalidate a Schwarzenegger executive order requiring that a third of all retail electricity sellers get their power from renewable sources by 2020. And it would suspend the regulation to slash carbon intensity of fuels by 10%.
However, half of the state’s measures to bring greenhouse gases down to 1990 levels by 2010 would survive, the analyst report concluded, notably the rules to cut tailpipe emissions, because they were enacted under different statutes.
A crowded ballot in November could work against the measure, but Costa, who was active in the successful effort to recall former Gov. Gray Davis, says his group’s Internet outreach will spawn “a new coalition.”
“Look at what happened in Massachusetts,” he said, referring to the “tea party"-supported election of Sen. Scott Brown. “I see that happening with AB 32. Blue-collar voters think the government has gone too far. We’re told we’re somehow warming the planet. But they don’t see the evidence.”