Texas Oil Companies Fund Measure to Repeal CA Climate Law

3_5_10_pollution.jpgAir pollution over the Inland Empire. Photo: DanDC/Flickr

(Editor's note: This is the first of two stories by Streetsblog LA Editor Damien Newton on efforts to delay implementation of California's groundbreaking climate legislation.)

In 2006, the California Legislature passed, and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed, Assembly Bill 32 (AB 32), a landmark law that requires the state to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. 

The legislation was the first of its kind in the United States and set a precedent numerous states have followed subsequently. For transportation reformers and environmentalists, AB 32 is important legislation that could still be a "game changer" in the way California thinks about transportation.

Thanks to a coalition of pro-business Republicans and the oil industry, however, there is a strong push to place a measure on this fall’s ballot to postpone the implementation of AB 32 objectives. Critics of the climate bill cite the current economic crisis as a valid reason to delay trying to clean California’s air. Assuming opponents of AB 32 can gather a minimum of 433,971 valid signatures to qualify their measure for the November ballot, voters will be asked to vote to "delay" the implementation of AB 32 until the state unemployment level dips below 5.5%.

While former Gubernatorial candidate and current Congressman Tom McClintock and Assemblyman Dan Logue, the figureheads in the anti-AB 32 campaign, aren’t members of the oil lobby, a recent New York Times article revealed that oil giants Tesoro and Valero have funded the anti-AB 32 measure on the ballot. Neither firm will either confirm or deny their involvement.

Steven Maviglio, of Californians for Clean Energy and Jobs took exception to the idea that AB 32 is bad for the economy, saying the new ballot measure would be the culprit in damaging the bottom line, particularly in the clean technology field. "This initiative would destroy the clean energy economy," he said. "There's more than $5 billion in venture capital, 3,000 businesses and 45,000 people employed in Clean Tech. This would take a wrecking ball to the only flourishing part of the economy."

Mavigilio also pointed out that delaying or overturning AB 32 would be bad for supporters of alternative transportation. "AB 32 is the catalyst for a lot of smart growth planning and anti-pollution efforts. This could derail any effort to have a smarter, less polluting transportation system."

Environmentalists concerned about the push-back from the oil industry were joined by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa who commented last week on the ballot initiative via press release:

We are currently in the midst of a global climate change crisis that is not only a threat to our environment, but our economic and job markets as well.  Here in California, we have always been leaders and activists and I am deeply proud that we have taken aggressive steps to combat climate change head-on with environmental initiatives and legislation such as AB 32...

...We cannot afford to lose sight of the progress we have made because large, out-of-state companies are more interested in lining their pockets with profits than protecting our environment.

For his part, Governor Schwarzenegger hasn't spoken on the link between Texas oil companies and California environmental policy, but the state does have plenty of ammunition available to fight critics of its greenhouse gas limits.  The California Climate Change Portal hosts a series of fact sheets about the level of emissions created in California and the economic benefits of converting to a cleaner economy. You can read other opinions debunking what some term the McClintock/Logue effort at Calitics.

Meanwhile, Valero was named one of the worst polluters in the United States and was forced to pay $711 million in environmental fines in 2005 alone.