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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Pushback in California

Air Date: Week of

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to be remembered for moving states to act on climate change when national governments wouldn't. (Photo: UNFCCC)

California officials are putting into effect the most comprehensive climate change measures in the country. But unemployment in the state is over 12 percent and a pushback against the state's major climate law is brewing. As Living on Earth’s Ingrid Lobet reports, supporters are gathering signatures for a fall ballot initiative that would roll back the law.


YOUNG: Now that Congress has passed a health care bill, there’s speculation about what might be done for the health of the climate. Last year the House of Representatives voted to cap greenhouse gases. But attempts to pull together the 60 votes needed in the Senate appear to be faltering. Conservative Democrats are wary, and the few Republican senators who want action on climate change do not like the bill that passed the House. Maine Republican Susan Collins made that quite clear.

COLLINS: If the House passed cap and trade bill were to come to the Senate floor I do not believe it would get 50 votes much less 60. I am confident that the cap and trade bill that the house passed is dead.

YOUNG: Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry and South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham are working on a compromise. It would mix a carbon cap on the electricity sector with support for coal, nuclear power and more offshore drilling. Matt Niemerski with the environmental group Oceana says that’s provoking a backlash.

NIEMERSKI: There’s a sense of frustration on the progressive side that perhaps their votes are being taken for granted. What we are starting to see is that the debate has shifted from not how to cap carbon pollution. It has simply come down to, what do we need to give industry in order to pass a bill.

YOUNG: While Congress continues its debate, several states have already taken action.
California led the way four years ago with a law limiting greenhouse gas emissions. It’s just now being put into place. However, with unemployment in California topping 12 percent, opponents say capping carbon could cost more jobs. They’ve launched an effort to block the law.

Living on Earth’s Ingrid Lobet reports that could send shockwaves beyond the Golden State.

LOBET: For nearly a decade, thousands of engineers, scientists and policy makers have been molding California into a model low-carbon economy. In recent years, there's been no more vocal champion of that effort than Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to be remembered for moving states to act on climate change when national governments wouldn't. (Photo: UNFCCC)

SCHWARZENEGGER: In California, we are proceeding on renewable energy requirements, and a cap and trade system for greenhouse gases, and limiting greenhouse gas emissions from cars. Nearly 60 percent of all venture capital in America flows through California, and this is creating the critical mass of money and intellect to develop new, green technologies.

LOBET: This is California as environmental leader. Indeed federal law gives other states the right to adopt stricter air rules once they're created here. But there is another California—communities living with massive unemployment, low-paying jobs and foreclosure—communities where venture capital seems remote. Conservatives and anti-tax groups are organizing in these hard hit areas to try to get a measure on the ballot to rollback California's climate change law.

Popular radio hosts John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou are supporting a campaign against California's major climate change law. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

KOBYLT/CHIAMPOU: This is suicide! Economic suicide that they are forcing on us! There has never been a groundswell of support from the people saying 'yeah we want to sacrifice a million jobs for a theoretical reduction in carbon dioxide emission,' when nobody else on the planet is doing this. Nobody is for that!

LOBET: That's the John and Ken radio show, broadcast in southern California. The one million lost jobs figure they cite comes from the high-end estimate of a Cal State Sacramento business school study—a study sharply criticized by state economists. On this day, the radio team exhorted listeners for five hours to scrap California's climate change law, which they refer to by a provocative and loaded name.

KOBYLT/CHIAMPOU: Sign the petitions! It’s the California Jobs Initiative to stop the Global Warming Final Solutions act.

LOBET: Governor Schwarzenegger has leaned heavily on businesses not to fund a measure that could tarnish his environmental legacy. So the effort has collected most of its money outside the state, about a million dollars so far, mostly from oil companies, including Valero, which owns two refineries here. Backers believe that as carbon regulations continue to go into effect, more residents will resent the intrusion, and sign on.

KOBYLT/CHIAMPOU: And we told you about the California Air Resources Board, and some of the crazy ideas they’ve been working over the past couple of years. Coming up with the idea of putting tint in your windows, and checking your tire inflation. Regulating the color of the outside of your car because you because you might be able to save two tenths of a degree on the inside. These are the ideas that went public! That’s what I want to get. I want to get the list of the stuff they decided to pass on!

LOBET: If the measure gets on the ballot, it could also increase conservative turnout for the gubernatorial election in November. Jerry Brown is the Democrat in the race. He'd continue climate change efforts. EBay billionaire Meg Whitman is the lead Republican candidate. Democrats are already painting her as a threat.

ANTI-WHITMAN AD: Meg Whitman, who wants to be governor of California, is standing with Sarah Palin and a group of extreme right-wingers in attacking solutions to the climate crisis…

LOBET: But it's not clear how strongly Whitman would oppose California's climate law, known as AB 32. She has said she would delay it.

WHITMAN: So, as governor I actually would place a moratorium on AB 32 by executive order until we fully understand the law’s impact on our economy. I love California's environment but I reject radical environmental policies that do little for the environment and devastate California's economic future.


LOBET: But Whitman also says she admires environmentalist Van Jones. She says she met him on an Arctic climate change cruise. And her family foundation has donated $300,000 to the Environmental Defense Fund. One national consultant on climate policies, Terry Tamminen, says the climate change pushback in California hasn't really made the national radar yet, but staffers in Washington are watching.

TAMMINEN: I think it is instructive when you see California, which has been the leader on climate policy in the United States, if you think that AB 32 might falter or even have serious backlash that you then say, maybe as we approach climate change, we should do it in a different way.

LOBET: The next goal for the ballot initiative is to turn in enough signatures by mid-April. Meanwhile, climate change efforts set in motion here continue to roll across the country. On April 1st EPA is set to approve national regulations on greenhouse gas emissions from cars, based on a 2002 law in California. For Living on Earth, I'm Ingrid Lobet in Los Angeles.



California’s climate change efforts

Governor Schwarzenegger's global warming page

Petition to repeal AB 32

Business group in CA active on global warming issue


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