Grassroots Coalition Jumps Into the Fight to Protect AB32

4544049143_8503ae5ac4.jpgA protest earlier this year against efforts to rollback AB 32. Photo: Ella Baker Center

A new coalition launching in the coming weeks is mobilizing groups with deep roots in their communities to take on Proposition 23, a measure on the November ballot that seeks to overturn AB32, California’s landmark greenhouse gas regulation bill.  Communities United Against the Dirty Energy Proposition represents those who suffer the worst effects of greenhouse gases but often have the most trouble being heard.

The contrast could hardly be sharper.  In one corner, there are the big Texas oil companies who are Prop 23’s most prominent backers. In the other, you have groups like the Green the Rez Campaign, a project
of the Bishop Paiute Tribe in the Eastern Sierra that promotes renewable
energy and sustainable living on the local reservation.

The oily Texans trying to roll back AB32 already face opposition from a number of mainstream politicians and environmental groups. Now they’re about to get clobbered by a concerted effort that pulls together organizations with strong ties to Asian, Latino, African American, and Native communities. The connections they make between their health needs and the economy call into question the stale jobs versus environmental rhetoric and will give the No on Proposition 23 campaign loads of street cred.

“Prop 23 is a dirty oil industry trick to try to undo a major California environmental law, and if passed, will put all people at risk from more pollution, especially low-income and people of color, who bear a huge and disproportionate burden of fossil fuel and industrial pollution,” said Bradley Angel, Executive Director of Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice, a member of the new coalition. “The health of our state’s most vulnerable communities is more important than dirty oil company profits.”

Greenaction has been in the thick of the struggle to stop expansion of a waste dump in Kettleman City, where residents have reported a cluster of birth defects they attribute to the current dump already nearby.

Prop 23 “suspends air pollution control laws requiring major polluters to report and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming until unemployment drops below specified level for full year,” according to the official ballot description. The campaign’s website calls Prop 23 the “California Jobs Initiative,” declaring that “The fight for our jobs is on!” Its list of endorsers includes politicians, businesses, and various Black and Latino chambers of commerce. Co-optation of conservative groups of color is an old tactic to give right-wing campaigns a veneer of credibility.

Curiously missing from the site of the “Jobs Initiative” are any endorsers from organized labor. That may be because the workers for those jobs are all on the other side. The California Labor Federation and several individual unions such as the Teamsters, Steelworkers, and California Nurses Association have already joined Californians for Clean Energy and Jobs, another earlier pro-AB32 coalition that has some overlap in community membership with the newly launching one. This more mainstream group lists dozens of respected backers like the League of Women Voters, but it also includes names like honorary co-chair George Shultz, a veteran of the Reagan and Bush administrations.

When the mainstream media anoint Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mayor Gavin Newsom as green heroes, never questioning their actions in gutting public transportation or Newsom’s connections to investments in oil companies (since divested when they were revealed in print), the struggle at the grassroots can get lost. Perhaps all the conservative and moderate voices against Prop 23 will help to defeat it, but the poor communities represented by the new coalition have little in common with the Shultzes, Newsoms, and Schwarzeneggers of the world.

Their issues are more personal and deeply connected. Communities United Against the Dirty Energy Proposition declares on its pre-launch website: “California is a ‘majority-minority’ state, and people of color represent 37 percent of independent voters. . . . We need to counter Big Oil’s deceptions. We need to make sure our communities know that their health, their jobs, and their incomes depend on stopping the Dirty Energy Proposition.”

About 60 organizations from throughout the state have signed onto the new coalition, including the Asia Pacific Environmental Network (APEN), Cesar Chavez Institute, Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment, and Oakland Rising. Oakland’s Ella Baker Center, which is known for its work on youth incarceration, green jobs, and street violence, was one of the spark plugs of the new coalition. Veteran local groups TransForm and Urban Habitat, fresh from the fight to move money from the Oakland Airport Connector to local transit agencies for starving bus service, are also on board.

Evidently, voters have been slow to succumb to Prop 23’s charms. A Field Poll released in early July showed the measure trailing 48 percent to 36 percent, with 16 percent undecided. The San Francisco Chronicle story on the poll quoted Stephen Nicholson of UC Merced, who linked the public’s negative views to the backers of the proposition. “If word gets out that big oil is behind this, it might very well go down to defeat,” he said.

The big money is behind Prop 23, but as the defeat of PG&E’s Prop 16 in the June election showed, money can’t always buy its way out of negative perceptions, especially when real people with real roots dig in to fight it.

APEN, which is also already a part of the Asia Pacific American Climate Coalition, sums up the connections for one of the communities gearing up to defend AB32: “We have an extraordinary opportunity to influence how our cities are built, how public funding gets prioritized, and help shape a new greener economy. It is imperative that APA communities engage to ensure that the benefits and impacts of climate programs can be distributed equitably. . . . With a significant California APA population, we are a critical sector in influencing climate programs not just in our state but across the country.”

  • Earl Richards

    The California Jobs Initiative (CJI) is an oil corporation farce and fruad. There is no connection, whatsoever, between greenhouse gas emission reduction and the loss of jobs. This notion is an insult to the intelligence of the people of California. In fact, there is is job growth in the clean, renewable energy industry. Chevron employs 65,000 worldwide and CJI is not going to change this. The only jobs created by the oil industry are clean-up jobs after oil spills and deep water, blow-outs and pump-handler jobs. CJI will make fantastic profits for the oil industry, increase air pollution, especially in communities around their refineries, and there will not be lower gas prices.

  • Jake

    My one objection to the tone of this piece is the unnecessary put-downs of Schwarzenegger and Newsom. Have we in the progressive community always agreed with them on these sorts of issues? Absolutely not.

    But let’s give credit where credit is due. AB32 wouldn’t have happened without Schwarzenegger’s support. Had he not taken a huge risk to buck his own know-nothing party and put his reputation on the line by throwing his support behind GHG reductions, the enormous progress made on implementing it (including the passage of SB375) wouldn’t have happened. As it has turned out, we have had the good fortune of having a Rockefeller Republican as our governor rather than a Gingrich or Palin Republican.

    Let’s not repeat the classic leftist mistake of publicly airing our dirty laundry with the people who we disagree with 40% of the time, and with whom we agree 110% on opposing Prop 23. Let’s save our rhetorical punches for the people with whom we disagree 200% — the Texas-based corporate slimebags who are backing this misguided initiative and all other enemies of AB32 (including Meg Whitman, who I think is making a very poor strategic decision by grossly misreading Californians’ attitudes on the environment). We can fight with Newsom and Schwarzenegger on the other 40% later.

    There is nothing more self-destructive than fighting with your partial friends, only to allow your total enemy to prevail.

    Do we want to be pure, or do we want to win? I want to win. Let’s put these 20th century dinosaurs back into their fossil beds and move on with our lives.

  • Charlie Peters

    NO on AB2289Eng unless amended

    Arnold, BAR & CARB using AB 2289 Eng to cut green collar jobs?

    http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2010/04/18/18645036.php

    If an elected official would request a copy of the Sierra Research SR 2007-04-01 report and all communication about the report from CCEEB, CED, CARB, DCA/BAR, IMRC, Parsons, SGS Testcom & Sierra Research it might help improve performance of Smog Check…. “Sherry Mehl. The report has been modified since 2001. Continually”

  • james cogley

    It is now a time for unity. les get behind the people who are supporting our green economy and find common ground so that we can begin to build a stronger greener plannet. it is time to put away petty differences and go on the offensive under a single banner: green jobs, saving the economy and the planet.

  • Emily

    Great to see the connection between traditional environmental issues like climate change linked with social justice like creating green jobs and pathways out of poverty. Defeating prop 23 will help close the climate gap and revive California’s green economy. http://college.usc.edu/pere/publications/

  • Mik

    There’s nothing wrong with AB32 per se. The proposition against it is pure oil company malice. But let’s be clear about something (seeing the photo at the top of the article): AB32 has no direct relationship with clean air! In fact, some things argued in the name of GHG reduction would make the air dirtier (more diesels, for instance) or, at least, make it more difficult to attain traditional health-based air quality standards. Any clean air benefit from GHG reduction is incidental, not intentional.

  • I’m glad Jake’s comment is near the top. His is an important point that I strongly agree with.

  • Fran Taylor

    In a related development, the national NAACP has just sent out a letter to supporters announcing its new Climate Justice Initiative, “our first coordinated foray into climate change as a civil and human rights issue.” The letter cited several alarming statistics; for example, 78% of African Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant, compared with 56% of whites (and that’s bad enough!). The rate of asthma for blacks is 36% higher than for whites. And on and on…

    A panelist on Belva Davis’s “This Week in Northern California” a few weeks back reported that Yes on Prop 23 was leading in communities of color, where unemployment is especially rampant and the jobs hook has made inroads. Let’s hope these forward-looking groups and leaders can turn that around.

  • Kevin

    I like how the “Clean Air Now” sign was clearly made using a stencil and aerosol spray paint… This shows how little some of these idiot protestors actually know.

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