Because of how they ask their questions, pollsters are still reporting that energy, climate, and the environment are off the political radar in 2010. Just how wrong they are is spectacularly on display here in California, where the biggest political issue shaping up this fall is the cluster of energy/climate/environmental protection. Last night, President Obama appeared at a huge fund-raiser for Senator Barbara Boxer, and both he and Boxer made it clear that her leadership on energy -- and the connections of her possible Republican opponents to Big Oil -- would be the central battleground of her reelection campaign.
A similar focus is emerging in the California governor's race, where Attorney General Jerry Brown, the Democratic front-runner, will face one of three Republicans, all of whom have announced they are against taking action on climate change -- even though each of them had previously supported such steps.
And it's not just the battle between candidates. The state will have two major energy-related ballot initiatives. One (led by an oil company) is an effort to repeal California's groundbreaking greenhouse pollution bill, AB 32. The oil industry wants to frame this as a jobs-saver, but the reality is more accurately reflected in the measure's ballot title: "Suspends Air Pollution control laws requiring major polluters to report and reduce greenhouse gas emissions..." When shown this title, voters overwhelmingly oppose it -- but when asked if they want to preserve jobs by delaying the state's greenhouse-gas law, they're evenly divided. Oil companies have already poured millions into the state to get this measure on the ballot.
The other energy initiative is homegrown. Pacific Gas and Electric, the major utility in Northern California, has placed on the ballot a very dangerous proposal (Prop. 16) to require a two-thirds vote before cities can purchase their power from anyone other than PG&E. This measure would lock a private monopoly into the state's constitution, and it's being opposed by consumer groups as well as environmentalists. The Consumer Federation of California calls it an anti-democratic power grab, but the utility has already spend $35 million and appears poised to spend at least another $30 million to lock in its monopoly and force Californians to pay more for dirtier power if the utility wants them to.
Both of these measures represent an effort to restore the discredited, worn-out arguments against a new, clean-energy economy and to claim that there is a conflict, instead of synergy, between jobs, consumer interests, and clean energy. Once again, California is ground zero.