California: The Next Climate Battleground

How can we dramatically strengthen U.S national climate policy? One critical battleground this year lies in California, where there is an opportunity to establish climate policy as an important driver of economic growth.
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Co-authored by Gary Cook

With the climate train now limping out of Copenhagen, the question becomes what's the next stop? The next major international negotiation meeting isn't scheduled until December in Cancún. In the meantime, many advocates are looking to Washington DC and gearing up for the battle to move a climate bill through Congress. But in 2010 the real play is even further west, in California where a strategic battle is brewing over clean energy and climate protection.

The cards have already been dealt for federal climate policy making this year, and even the most optimistic acknowledge we won't be clearing the table on this go around (assuming that climate legislation even makes it to a vote, an outcome increasingly in doubt). Meanwhile, key cards for the next round of federal policy making are being laid out 3000 miles away in California.

Lasting change typically comes from the bottom up, and climate policy is no exception to the cliché. Rarely do federal policy makers move beyond the ambition of state governments and the grassroots movements that usually set the ceiling for the possible. The 2006 victory to enact California's AB-32 climate law helped set the bar and paved the way for the current crop of federal proposals, and the outcome of several key battles in California in 2010 will likely define where those proposals are able to go.

This same bottom-up political logic ruled the day in Copenhagen. By the time the December negotiations had rolled around the die was already cast. Weak pledges from countries going into the negotiations ensured a weak deal coming out. And the likely logic of the next round of negotiations is that without a strong U.S. policy there will be no strong international treaty.

How can we dramatically strengthen U.S national climate policy? One critical battleground this year lies in California, where there is an opportunity to establish climate policy as an important driver of economic growth - currently a weak spot in the federal policy debate. There are three strategic battles brewing in the state, each with the potential to define the course of federal politics.

Delaying Clean Energy

This spring and summer California officials will hold a series of public meetings

The June ballot in California will host the second important showdown between climate advocates and the powers-that-be, in this case California's largest power utility, PG&E, which backed a successful signature gathering campaign to qualify a ballot initiative that would "limit the ability of California cities to go into the public power business...[and] force local governments that want to compete with PG&E to win the approval of two-thirds of their voters first.

But the stakes will be even higher for climate advocates come November in the race for California governor, an election battle that will polls say will pit Republican Meg Whitman against Democrat Jerry Brown. Whitman has made the fight against climate legislation a cornerstone of her campaign, calling

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