On Climate: Congress Restarts, California Threatens

On climate and energy policy this Spring, California and Washington, DC are both running hot.

The last two weeks in Congress have seen optimism, retreat, and now some limited movement forward as Sen. John Kerry has said he will introduce his long-awaited climate bill on May 12. Meanwhile, in California a threat by political ideologues and oil companies to overturn the state's climate laws has become real as a November 2010 statewide ballot proposition will ask the state's voters to overturn AB32, the landmark 2006 emissions legislation. These parallel developments offer both opportunities and significant risks for the growing clean tech economy.

On the federal front, Senators John Kerry and Joseph I. Lieberman will unveil a long-awaited climate change bill on May 12 without Sen. Lindsey Graham, who had been the measure's only Republican supporter. Graham backed away two days before the originally scheduled April 26 bill rollout because he was angry that Sen. Harry Reid planned to bring immigration legislation to the Senate floor ahead of the climate bill. To complicate matters, the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has reached deep into the discussion. As McClatchy news described the effect, "It's calling into question President Barack Obama's proposal to open new offshore areas to oil drilling. It's complicating already difficult efforts to pass a controversial bill aimed at curbing climate change. It's also all but certain to become a major issue in many of this fall's campaigns for control of Congress."

In California things are also unclear as opponents of AB32 claim to have a budget of at least $50 million as they plan for a ballot proposition to "suspend" AB32 and perhaps risk fuel economy, building efficiency, and renewable electricity rules as well. If it's true that "as goes California, so goes the nation," then we all better be worried about bottomless pockets and political savvy that Big Oil has demonstrated over and over again. A coalition of environmental and clean tech leaders is building a six-month opposition campaign under the name Californians for Clean Energy Jobs. Even though the Golden State is among the greenest of them all, this will be a close election that could shut things down in DC and in about 49 other state capitols. So pay attention and get engaged.

Donnie Fowler
Sonoma County, California