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Battle over California’s climate law heats up

What was speculation for months is now confirmed: Texas-based oil companies are the principal funders of a state ballot initiative that would suspend California’s Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32). Reports(pdf) filed last week with the Secretary of State reveal that Valero Services Inc. ($500,000), Tesoro Co. ($100,000) — both of San Antonio, TX — and several other oil companies have contributed 70% of the funds collected to qualify the measure for the November ballot.

The initiative needs 433,000 certified signatures to qualify, and its backers have hired a signature-gathering organization to do the legwork. The canvassers, who stand on street corners or outside shopping centers, get paid $1.00-$3.00 per signature. From my conversation with a signature-gatherer in Berkeley last week, it’s clear that this is a purely mercenary business. The young man was armed with at least six clipboards, each with a different voter initiative.

For the one opposing AB 32, he asks registered voters to sign the following petition:

“Suspends air pollution control laws requiring major polluters to report and reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming until unemployment drops below specified level for full year.”

In response to my questions, the signature-gatherer struggled to explain the rationale for the initiative and could not counter points that I raised about the job-creating potential of AB 32 and how it will support a clean energy economy. He acknowledged that relative to other petitions, he was having a hard time – at least in Berkeley – getting people to sign.

But California is a big state with many areas in which simplistic arguments about environmental protection threatening jobs may resonate with voters. Oil money from Valero and others makes dollars-for-signatures an easy game to win.

Many business and environmental leaders are organizing to fight back. Californians for Clean Energy and Jobs has sponsored a “No on Valero” website to help mobilize supporters of AB 32. Newspaper editorial boards are starting to write on the issue, e.g. Repealing AB 32 would be a disaster for California and AB 32 foes are slick – and predictable. Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who signed the law in 2006, is defending AB 32 at every opportunity.

We’ll know if the measure qualifies for the ballot by the end of June; if it does, the campaign could shape up as the environmental battle of the year.

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