Battle over Proposition 23 gets airborne

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The battle over California’s global-warming law took to the air this week with television spots touting or bashing Proposition 23, a ballot initiative to suspend regulations aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

A 30-second TV spot in favor of Prop 23 features a middle-aged woman in a white-columned home on a tree-lined street telling viewers “I have enough bills. Now the politicians are putting a new energy tax on us to pay for California’s global-warming law.” It is airing in Sacramento, the Central Valley and San Diego.

A 30-second spot attacking Prop 23 contrasts images of windmills and solar panels with a landscape of smokestacks and the slogan “Stop the job-killing Dirty Energy Proposition.” A 15-second spot targets Texas-based oil companies that are funding the initiative. They are airing more broadly, in San Francisco, Sacramento, Los Angeles and San Diego.


Coastal residents tend to favor environmental measures more than Californians who live inland. A Los Angeles Times/USC poll last week showed 40% of likely voters favor the initiative and 38% oppose it, essentially a dead heat.

The campaigns appear to be taking different tacks to succeed in November. Supporters of Prop. 23 have not engaged in phone banking or much other grass-roots activity, said Anita Mangels, spokeswoman for the Yes on Prop. 23 campaign. But “tea party” activists, joined by officials from the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn., a Prop 23 sponsor, have held several small rallies in support of the initiative.

Opponents, however, have been busy on the ground, focusing on jobs created by alternative energy, and targeting green-leaning voters.

On Wednesday, executives of Los Angeles-area clean tech firms and labor union officials gathered at a Burbank airport hangar powered by solar panels to attack Proposition 23 as a green job killer.

Ron Mulick, president of Solartronics Inc., an Agoura Hills solar panel installer, said his construction company had dropped from $1 million in annual gross revenue to less than $20,000 during the current recession, “so I jumped into solar. Prop 23 jeopardizes companies like mine that try to put people back to work.”

Danny Curtin, director of the California Conference of Carpenters, led a group of 30 workers in hard hats to the event. “California is the leader of renewable energy in America,” he said. “Workers are being retrained to work on solar and wind projects, to build energy efficient buildings. If Prop 23 passes, this revolution will come to a halt.”


Proposition 23 would suspend the 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act which is aimed at cutting planet-heating gases from industries and cars, until California’s unemployment rate drops to 5.5% for a year. The state’s jobless rate is now over 12%, and a sustained level at 5.5% has rarely been achieved, so the initiative could effectively put the law on indefinite hold.

Backers of Prop 23 say the global-warming law, known as AB 32, will result in job losses and higher electricity rates because alternative energy costs more than fossil fuels. The law would require a third of the state’s electricity to come from solar, wind and other clean sources and would force refineries to cut the carbon intensity of gasoline.

The grassroots campaign opposing the measure is targeting 700,000 voters identified by the California League of Conservation Voters as environmentally oriented but with an inconsistent history of voting.

“California has very long ballots, and there’s always a worry that a measure can get lost in the shuffle,” said Sarah Rose, the league’s executive vice president. “This is one of the more sophisticated campaigns we have run.”

On Monday night, 45,123 voters joined a phone call with Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune and American Lung Assn. policy director Bonnie Holmes-Gen, who urged them to mobilize against the initiative. Listeners were invited to ask questions.

Brune charged that the initiative’s oil-company funders, “are actively endangering California’s health so they can make a buck.”


The initiative is mainly funded by Valero Energy Corp. and Tesoro Corp., two San-Antonio-based companies that operate refineries and gas stations in California, and Koch Industries, a Kansas oil conglomerate that has fought federal climate legislation and helped organize “tea party” activists.

Credo Action, a San Francisco-based group funded by Working Assets, the telecommunications network, has opened offices in Los Angeles and four other cities to run phone banks, and picket Valero gas stations. The Union of Concerned scientists has organized more than 80 house parties across the state.