Is California Proposition 23 Strike 3 for Climate Change?

First it was meltdown of a global climate change treaty at COP15 then Waxman-Markey legislation failed to thrive in Congress—now Proposition 23 to suspend the California Global Warming Solutions Act could be the third strike for environmental advocates.

The political calculus is being reset after the Senate failed to muster the 60 votes to pass a climate change bill like Waxman-Markey.  According to Politico, the new Plan B strategy for advocates of global warming action is to focus on many smaller actions across the states and Federal agencies where receptivity may be better.  Thus the goal is to use the membership of environmental action groups across the country to put pressure on state and local officials for actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

This Plan B strategy has begun to appear here in California as opponents of Proposition 23 begin to mobilize to defeat this November 2010 ballot measure to suspend the California Global Warming Solutions Act until unemployment in California is 5.5% or lower for four consecutive quarters.

Going Backward on the Clean Economy

The Clean Economy Network released a report in July entitled “Going Backward,” assert that suspending AB32 in California would slow the growth in renewable energy sources, frustrate energy efficiency standards for homes & office buildings and fail to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  The CEN has fourteen chapters and more than 250 businesses and organizations across the state have agreed to work together to oppose Prop 23.

The CEN is trying to tell Californians that the passage of AB32 was responsible for the explosive growth of private equity investment in cleantech and suspending it would put the brakes on California’s growth engine when we need it most.  Opponents of AB32 call this assertion a ruse and suggest that cleantech is largely driven by Smart Grid and Federal stimulus money for clean technology solutions and the RPS requirements for renewable energy in the investor owned utility portfolios.

What is Proposition 23?

The ballot measure is sponsored and funded by two of the state’s largest oil refiners Valero and Tesoro, the Adam Smith Foundation and a collection of others with similar interests.  A good summary of the history of the ballot measure and its funders can be found on Ballotpedia. The measure avoided a direct repeal attempt by proposing instead to suspend its operation until unemployment levels fall below 5.5% for two years.  This level of employment has not been seen in California since 2007 and opponents of the proposition call this proposal a ruse.

So What?

The disappointment of the advocates for climate change legislation at the failure of Congress to pass legislation this session is real.  But that disappointment is turning to worry that progress in the States could be undermined by proposals like Proposition 23.  The Plan B strategy is a shift from playing offense to defending past gains on the defense.  California figures to be one of its first big tests in the November 2010 Prop 23 decision.  The mid July Field Poll found that 36% of likely voters surveyed favored Proposition 23 while 48% opposed it.

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