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

Californians Vote Resoundingly to Keep Climate Law

Air Date: Week of
April 22, 2010 rally in Oakland, CA. (Photo: The Ella Baker Center)

California will continue to prepare for living with carbon constraints after voters there trounced an oil-funded effort to put its climate change law on ice. The vote signals to businesses and investors that emitting carbon will carry a cost, at least in the state where 12 percent of the nation’s population resides. Host Steve Curwood speaks with longtime climate legislator State Senator Fran Pavley. Then, LOE's Ingrid Lobet gives us a roundup of the results of some of the western governors' races.


CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Steve Curwood.

GELLERMAN: And, I’m Bruce Gellerman. Advocates are calling it the largest-ever vote for clean energy. Californians resoundingly defeated an oil-company backed initiative to shelve its global warming law. Sixty-one percent voted against the effort, so California will stay on a strict path to increase the use of clean energy.

CURWOOD: Republicans played a major role in preserving California’s renewable standards, including President Reagan’s Secretary of State George Shultz and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who mocked the federal government for failing to act on climate change.

SCHWARTZENEGGER: While we are doing all of these great things, there is no action in Washington. Isn’t that interesting? No action in Washington. Those reforms are always lost or killed somewhere between the White House and Capitol Hill and the K Street lobbyists. Somehow America has created its own Bermuda Triangle where all those ideas and great reforms disappear somehow or evaporate. The one thing about California, though, is we never wait for Washington.

CURWOOD: Technology companies, venture capital and the Latino vote also helped preserve California’s climate protection law. State Senator Fran Pavley is an author of California’s breakthrough laws limiting vehicle and overall carbon pollution. Fran Pavley says California has some lessons for the rest of America.

PAVLEY: In California we’ve really not talked about just climate change and global warming. We’ve talked about the link to air pollution, we’ve talked about the impact to our water supply, our high sierra snow pack is at risk. But we’ve mostly talked about the importance of having a clean and secure energy source. We don’t want to be gamed by Texas and we certainly don’t want to rely on dependence foreign oil. We’re very concerned about that.

And I think, on the federal level, they need to talk about it in that regard. When I talk to constituents, from all different political perspectives, they want the option of having more efficient appliances so they can save money on their utility bills. They want energy efficient homes, they want more weatherization of homes. They certainly want, and this is polled every year for ten years since I carried the clean car law, they want broader consumer choice and more fuel-efficient and energy-efficient cars that are less polluting.

So, I think in California we never started with talking about cap and trade, I think the federal government started with that approach. I think that if you talk to different states there is a lot of good things happening in states, as well as cities, I think that is where you will see the groundswell of increased effort.

CURWOOD: Well it looks like here in America, actually, there are two different countries: There’s one where you have a federal government that seriously doubts the necessity of acting on climate, and then you have other parts of the country, in California and elsewhere, where people are stating firmly that they do want to act and using the government process to do so. How do you feel about that?

This April 22 event in Oakland, CA was billed as a protest against dirty energy. (Photo: The Ella Baker Center)

PAV: There might be what’s perceived as a mixed signal, but again I’d like to challenge the federal government to reframe the discussion. I believe national security is a critical issue that Americans everywhere would be supportive of addressing.

I’ve held some hearings with the top military officials from the Navy and the Marines and others. Did you know the military has, for their policy, a 30 percent reduction of energy use by 2020? That exceeds what California trying to do! They are doing it with bio-fuels, reduced dependence on foreign oil, which they think is a critical national security issue. They are worried about massive migrations and movements of people creating unrest. So they are making aggressive steps to become more sustainable, it’s really quite fascinating.

CURWOOD: How hopeful are you that a viable greenhouse gas reduction system can be started with California in the lead?

PAVLEY: I’m very hopeful because we’ve seen the pattern before. California is big enough with 38 million people. We actually have more people than all of Canada, so, just to put that in perspective. But, California will work very collaboratively with other states. We actually have a strong network through organizations like the National Conference of State Legislators and these are people from states all over the country who are doing amazing things in their cities and their states.

April 22, 2010 rally in Oakland, CA. (Photo: The Ella Baker Center)

I think each state has a different way to approach this. What works in one state may not be the same policies that are the best in another state. And, when I was back in Copenhagen last December, and Governor Schwarzenegger was there too, we both thought all the action was going to come from down below: individuals, cities, communities, more sustainability, pedestrian-oriented communities, state legislators and organizations working together.

We have built a tremendous coalition here in California in supporting these policies: it’s health advocates, it’s people concerned about water supply, it’s small and large businesses, university and college students, the interfaith community, an amazing coalition of Christian Muslim and Jewish leaders, and that’s is a strong voice that represents the majority of people who live in California. Those same kinds of coalitions, with variances obviously, state-by-state, are what is going to move this forward.

CURWOOD: Well I want to thank you for taking the time with me today.

PAVLEY: Well, thank you very much.

CURWOOD: California State Senator, Fran Pavley, is an author of the state’s greenhouse gas law that was just re-affirmed at the ballot box.

GELLERMAN: Let’s stay in California and turn to Ingrid Lobet, LOE’s Western Bureau Chief for a look at the Governor races in the region and how they might affect clean energy legislation. So, Jerry Brown is the once and future governor of California…

Jerry Brown

LOBET: That’s right. Actually both California and Oregon decided they liked Democrats they had seen before. California reelected Jerry Brown, who was governor in the ‘70s, and Oregon elected Democratic John Kitzhaber, who was governor in the late ‘90s ‘til 2003.

John Kitzhaber

Kitzhaber says he wants Oregon to go beyond the goal that it already has – 25 percent of its energy renewable and reducing carbon emissions below 1990 levels in 15 years. He thinks these should be more than merely goals, perhaps a limit on carbon. By the way Bruce, Kitzhaber’s background is as an emergency room doctor.

GELLERMAN: Hmm. Well, let’s go the elections in the Silver State and the Land of Enchantment.

LOBET: Ok, both Nevada and New Mexico elected Republican governors who are Latino. In New Mexico, it’s Susana Martinez. New Mexico is really interesting because it alone has signed on to carbon limits that will allow it to work in sync with California. And yet the same day New Mexico officials issued their climate change regulations, which happen to be on Tuesday, the voters of New Mexico chose District Attorney Sandra Martinez. And she says she wants to get rid of scientifically unnecessary regulation, and move forward on New Mexico’s rich oil and gas reserves.

Brian Sandoval

In Nevada, Judge Bryan Sandoval gave up a lifetime appointment on the federal bench to run for governor. His platform says nothing about energy. As Attorney General in Nevada, though, he like a lot of Nevadans strongly opposed Yucca Mountain as a repository for high level nuclear waste.

GELLERMAN: Do we have time for anyone else? Let’s see, Colorado elected a new governor too, right?

John Hickenlooper

LOBET: Yeah, Colorado is also interesting. They elected John Hickenlooper, a Dem, a former exploration geologist-- that means coal and oil and gas-- also a popular brewpub owner and the mayor of Denver. As mayor he’s been working on Denver’s carbon footprint, he’s pushed green architecture, waste reduction, he’s big on water reuse, and he says he was proud to attend the climate conference in Copenhagen last year.

GELLERMAN: So, a doctor, a pub owner, a judge and a top cop…a real diverse group of Western governor’s. Thanks a lot, Ingrid.

LOBET: You’re welcome.

GELLERMAN: Living on Earth’s Western Bureau Chief Ingrid Lobet.



California State Senator Fran Pavley bio

California Plan to Address Climate Change

Campaign to roll back the climate law

Campaign to keep the climate law


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