Litmus Test: California Voters to Determine Fate of Climate Change Bill

A number of regional agreements in the united States and Canada limit greenhouse gas emissions. What's stopping them from becoming national legislation? Corporate interests.
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In 2006, Schwarzenegger committed California to a 25% cut in greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) by 2020 based on 1990 levels through the Global Warming Solutions Act or AB 32. It was the first such statewide mandate in the United States. And it does what most scientific bodies have called for in order to avert climate change.

Most scientific bodies, such as the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, agree that in order to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius over 1990 levels, greenhouse gas emissions need to be reduced by 20 to 40 percent by 2020 based on 1990 levels.

When California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger addressed the COP 15 in Copenhagen, he encouraged international agreements but said they won't be enough to combat global warming. (NY mayor Michael Bloomberg argued a similar point the same day.)

As Terry Tamminen, former head of California's Environmental Protection Agency and adviser to Governor Schwarzenegger on energy and the environment put it, "I think Copenhagen revealed that it's tough to get 192 countries to agree. It highlights what cannot be done. AB 32, however, highlights what can be achieved. Aside from what it legislated for the state, it led to numerous regional efforts: the Western Climate Initiative, which led to the Midwestern Greenhouse Gas Accord."

Tamminen names just a few of the recent regional systems that have sprung up to set regional limits for GHGs. The Western Climate Initiative (WCI) consists of six western U.S. states and four Canadian provinces. The Midwestern Greenhouse Gas Accord (MGA) includes six midwestern U.S. states and one Canadian province. And the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) encompasses ten northeastern U.S. states and one Canadian province.

In other words, over half of the U.S. and Canada has signed on to these agreements. If one were to include the observer states, all Canadian provinces and territories and the majority of U.S. states have signed on.

What's stopping these types of agreements, then, from becoming national legislation within their respective countries?

It turns out to be the same thing that is threatening to uproot AB 32 in Tuesday's California election: corporate interests.

In California, Texas-based oil giants Valero and Tesoro have invested heavily into Proposition 23. It attempts to delay the implementation of AB 32. As Kate Sheppard reports in Mother Jones, "98% of contributions to the pro-Prop. 23 campaign are from oil companies. Eighty-nine percent of the contributions come from out of state."

Proposition 23 calls for the implementation of AB 32, which was scheduled to begin in January 2012, to be delayed until state unemployment levels stay below 5.5 percent for four consecutive quarters, something last witnessed in the 1970s and thus - under current economic conditions - not likely to be seen again any time soon. According to the most recent figures, California unemployment looms at 12.4 percent.

Proposition 23 - calling itself the "The California Jobs Initiative" - argues that AB 32 will cost California jobs and be a drain on the economy. Tamminen argues that could not be further from the truth. "The million dollar solar industry in California," he said, "has kept thousands employed in California during the economic recession."

As Sheppard reports: "While enacting AB32 could cause job loss in some sectors, most independent experts actually forecast growth in jobs in the renewable energy, transportation, and efficiency sectors. In fact, green jobs are pretty much the only sector growing in the Golden State. The number of green jobs grew 36 percent in California between 1995 and 2008. The rate of growth for regular old jobs was only 13 percent."

These figures underscore one of the additional benefits of regional climate change legislation and of a transition to renewable energy: aside from preventing global warming, it creates jobs.

Schwarzenegger has sought to curb emissions and create green jobs by shifting to renewable energy, committing California to obtaining 33% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. Currently, despite (or perhaps due to) lacking national legislation, 29 U.S. states have established targets for the percentage of energy to be derived from renewable energy.

As to the future of AB 32, a poll conducted last week by the LA Times and USC indicates that the majority of Californians oppose Prop. 23 with 48% opposed and 32% in favor.,0,1234526.story

It'll be interesting to see what voters decide on Tuesday, since - as Sheppard points out - it is "the first time that an entire state of voters would get to decide whether or not to take comprehensive action on climate change" and since California is often a harbinger of what the future holds in other states.

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