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New threat to California’s climate law

The most far-reaching climate law in the country faces a new threat from a ballot measure that Californians may vote on in November. Long-time foes of environmental regulation have banded together with anti-tax activists to try to stop the state’s Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32) before it takes effect in 2012.

Advocates for the ballot measure are seeking to capitalize on voters’ anxieties by blaming AB 32 for California’s struggling economy. The proposition, which first must secure 434,000 voter signatures to get on the ballot, would suspend implementation of the climate law until the state unemployment rate drops below 5.5% for four consecutive quarters (latest report shows a rate of 12.3%). The measure’s backers, including Republican Assembly member Dan Logue, Congressman Tom McClintock (R-CA), and taxpayer association director Ted Costa, claim that businesses will leave the state because of AB 32. Their arguments rely heavily on a one-sided study by two California State University at Sacramento professors that reports only on potential costs of the law, and not on the likely economic benefits.
Two Republican candidates for California governor in 2010, former eBay CEO Meg Whitman and California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, have made suspending AB 32 part of their campaign positions.

Opposing the ballot measure stands a formidable array of business and environmental groups — along with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger — who view AB 32 as a boost to the state’s economy that will create new jobs and bring more capital investment to clean technologies. Last month, the Center for Resource Solutions analyzed four studies of AB 32’s economic impact and concluded that they “…yield a broad consensus that climate solutions are affordable and economic growth will be robust at the same time that pollution reductions of the magnitude called for by AB 32 are achieved.” The California Air Resources Board plans to release an updated economic analysis of the law later this month.

Commenting on the effort to suspend AB 32, the law’s co-author, Democratic State Senator Fran Pavley, says:
> This transparent effort to stop progress on reducing climate pollution would only result in chilling the billions of dollars in investment that California has benefited from since the passage of AB 32 — one of the few bright spots in the economy. It makes no sense to introduce a measure that chills economic development and the investment in energy security we need to reduce our dependence on foreign sources of fuel and energy.”

The campaigns for and against the ballot measure could shape up as a battle royal with dueling TV and radio ads that may easily confuse voters. This debate is likely to attract national attention, especially if federal climate legislation stalls in Washington. One promising channel for involvement is the California Business Alliance for a Green Economy. TerraPass encourages business owners to sign up to protect AB 32.

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