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Energy Running Thin In Campaign To Delay Calif. Climate Change Law

Paresh Dave |
October 19, 2010 | 9:10 p.m. PDT

Executive Producer

If Proposition 23 fails, California would have to reduce carbon emissions in the state to 1990 levels by 2020. For the average meal at a restaurant, the change amounts to a handful of extra cents on the bill, according to a study touted by opponents of Prop 23. (Creative Commons)
If Proposition 23 fails, California would have to reduce carbon emissions in the state to 1990 levels by 2020. For the average meal at a restaurant, the change amounts to a handful of extra cents on the bill, according to a study touted by opponents of Prop 23. (Creative Commons)
The No on Proposition 23 campaign has been polling early voters to get a sense of whether Nov. 2 will offer a happy ending to their campaign to stop California's landmark climate change law from being suspended, and so far, optimism is on their side.

“The other side is no longer on the airwaves,” said No on 23 spokesperson Steven Maviglio. “Their fundraising has dried up.”

California's climate change law, AB 32, requires the state to cut carbon emissions from cars, trucks, power plants, the agriculture industry and other businesses by 30 percent within the next decade through taxes and regulations. Proposition 23 would keep the law from taking effect Jan. 1, 2011 and would instead defer it until the unemployment rates falls for a full year from its current level of 12.4 percent to 5.5 percent.

The initiative has pitted “dirty energy companies” and heavy users of fuel against “clean energy companies” and their investors and those who believe in climate change versus those who deny its existence.

At the center of it all is a debate among donors from either side about whether one state can make a dent in a global problem and whether that state's investment in a greener future is worth the extra financial burden on businesses of all sizes.

Through Oct. 15, the Yes on 23 campaign had raised $9 million, including $5.6 million from Texas-based oil companies Valero and Tesoro. But neither company has invested in the campaign to delay the climate change law since Oct. 7. Entering October, the campaign still had $3.1 million to work with and another $732,000 has come in this month from petroleum marketers associations in western states and a handful of agriculture and energy companies. The committee spent $2 million this week to launch an ad campaign in L.A., according to the L.A. Times, leaving it very low on funding.

The Sacramento Bee's Dan Morain reported Sunday: “Yes-on-23 strategist Rick Claussen told me last week that there would be no final push unless backers came through with $10 million fast. The week came and went without an infusion.”

The oil companies have seen the low support for Prop 23 in polls and have directed donations toward Proposition 26, which could provide another avenue to to delay provisions of the climate change law.

The 10 committees opposing Prop 23 ended September with $5.6 million remaining from the $16.5 million they had raised. The primary donors have been environmental groups, green technology companies, investors and venture capitalists. For opponents, the donations have continued steadily into this week to the tune of about $10 million this month, including a $1,000,000 infusion on Oct. 15 from “Avatar” director James Cameron.

“We're going to keep our foot on the gas pedal and ride all the way to election day,” Maviglio said.

During the last two weeks of the election season, the No on 23 campaign plans on holding events at college campuses, calling voters and showering fliers by mail on absentee voters.

The new climate change law is likely to cost the state some jobs because of the higher costs businesses will face, but many of the losses could be offset by a rise in green energy and technology companies. One voter remarks that by voting against Prop 23, Californians are affirming that a “green revolution” is part of the state's future.

A summer poll by Public Policy Institute of California showed that Latinos oppose the climate change law more than any other group. “They seem to understand they will be first in line to get laid off when the law starts to bite,” writes the Wall Street Journal.

Cities have begun to take notice, too. The city of El Centro is excited about three new renewable energy facilities coming to its area during the next two years with 13 similar projects awaiting regulatory and bureaucratic approval. But though these jobs at renewable energy-generating facilities open up a door for the unemployed, El Centro has a problem. Who will work at these new solar, wind and geothermal energy businesses?

The skills of most of El Centro’s population, which is three-fourths Latino, are geared toward farming and non-technical jobs. Most have never thought of college, and even if they have, they probably can’t afford it. El Centro plans to help fill 200 full-time positions that will arrive when one of the first renewable energy plants open next fall by placing workers into training programs for the new jobs at the classrooms of local colleges.

Tom Robinson, who owns the Rotten Robbie chain of gas stations in the Bay Area, donated $10,000 to the campaign in favor of Prop 23. He said the regulations will not protect the environment enough to justify the loss of jobs in the state. Under AB 32 provisions, businesses can expect to spend more money for energy and more money to improve the fuel efficiency of their operations.

“I think that it is not reasonable to assume that it is going to make a significant difference on the climate,” Robinson, who holds a degree in economics, said.

Valero's position goes beyond the cost to the economy.

“AB 32 will never be effective in stopping global warming because one state, even a big state like California, cannot effect a global issue like climate change,” company spokesperson Bill Day says. “If you want to effect this issue, it has to be on a global level, not on a state or local level—California cannot save the world alone.”

An official at the National Resources Defense Council said statewide action is still better than individual efforts.

“The most effective policies are those that help move us collectively towards a societal goal, rather than asking every individual to make sacrifices ever day,” said Kristin Eberhard, the council's West Coast legal director.

To those who say California can never solve the problem alone, Eberhard describes her outlook on pollution by relating the situation to a friend who needs help losing weight, “To get them started down the right path, you offer to go to the gym with them once a week, they reject your offer saying ‘once a week isn’t going to solve the problem!’ And they are right, but they won’t lose any weight with that attitude.”

Eberhard adds, “We are never going to solve global warming if every state and nation rationalizes doing nothing because they can’t solve the whole problem alone.”

Part of the problem, said Lee Jamison, who owns Jaco Oil, is that any push California makes to get rid of “dirty energy” will be invisible to the rest of the world.

“Everyone would have to follow the same rules,” Jamison says. “Global warming will never be controlled or avoided because whenever we clean up our energy, we always find a way to get dirty energy from other parts of the world.”

The owner of a Riverside trucking business said strong environmental laws have left California isolated—and not in a good way.

Ron Nelthorpe said he donated $500 to support Prop 23 because the “hocus pocus about going green” will ruin California, destabilizing an already troubled economy.

Mercedes-driving Ardash Keuilian owns a Chevron gas station in Costa Mesa. He said he gave $100 to delay AB 32 because “being green will not help pay the bills or keep food on the table.”

Peter Ganahl, the owner of a chain of lumber and construction supply stores in Orange County, worries about the money he will have to find to buy cleaner-burning trucks, rigs and tractors if the new law goes into effect as planned. He does not believe global warming is threatening the Earth.

“Businesses will be driven out of the state to save money, so that they won't need to purchase cleaner equipment,” says Ganahl, “leaving the remaining businesses in California susceptible to increased expenses, which means less customers, less income and a poorer economy.”

Then, there's William Happer, the director of energy research in President George H.W. Bush's administration. In 2002, Happer, now a professor at Princeton University, testified before Congress about the world’s “carbon dioxide famine”.

“AB 32 does not benefit California; it’s all pain and no gain,” said Happer, who spends each summer in California. “Carbon dioxide is good for the planet, so what is the point of going through all this agony to get rid of it?”

With reporting from contributors Kendall Bullock, Aubrey Garcia, Jordan Lee, Jessi Sampogna and staff reporter Jenny Chen.

Reach executive producer Paresh Dave here. Follow him on Twitter: @peard33.



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