It has been a rough going lately for those who are advocating greater action to stall climate change. The bumps all began with Climate-Gate, a non-controversy that nonetheless gripped Fox News and soured many on the data behind climate change theory. Americans are focused on the economy and the national debt, so any talk of climate change and renewable energy is drowned out by unemployment figures hovering around 10%. You would think that the Deepwater Horizon spill would galvanize more people into action or at least talk, but that does not seem to be the case. Al Gore has disappeared, with little to say about the last few months’ events. Congress is a basket case as usual, so climate change or energy policy legislation is doubtful this year. And if Congress cannot get anything done, climate change concern will wither away.
Or will it?
Yesterday I had another conversation with Larry Goldenhersh, founder and CEO of Enviance, a provider of environmental ERP software. In Goldenhersh’s opinion, action in Congress is neither here nor there. What really matters is AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, which requires California’s greenhouse gas emissions to be reduced to 1990 levels by 2020. But thanks to California’s absurdly easy rules that allow citizens to vote on complex legislation (which has run the gamut from a horsemeat ban to marriage to insurance laws), a measure on November’s ballot, Proposition 23, would scuttle AB 32. Using the argument that AB 32 is a jobs killer, two Texas oil companies are largely behind the effort to roll back AB 32.
So why does AB 32 matter? The controversy puts Goldenhersh and his firm in a peculiar spot—many of Enviance’s firms are energy companies who have a vested interest in seeing that AB 32 is overruled—and they are Enviance’s clients because of environmental regulations to which they must follow.
Goldenhersh argues that should California voters uphold AB 32, we will witness a transformation of energy policy—the Normandy invasion of climate change. Pair that with a Jerry Brown victory in the governor’s race, and you have cap-and-trade in California by 2012 or 2013. Even if Republican Meg Whitman wins the race, should voters choose to stay with AB 32, that decision should only delay cap and trade legislation another year at the most. And considering California’s voters have a history of starting national trends from property tax to insurance reform, to (ahem) amassing debt, there’s a good chance that other states could start their own cap and trade programs as well. So Congressional action or inaction would be moot.
If California rejects AB32 by voting yes on Prop 23, the results would send a chilling effect far beyond California’s voters. Since the 1960s the Golden State has passed regulations aimed at cleaning the air and water. A Yes on Prop 23 would send a signal to the world that citizens would conclude that climate change legislation is just too expensive at this time.
So the next few months will be a nail-biting and hair-raising affair. We have a governor’s race costing US$100.5 million—that .5 is what Jerry Brown has spent so far. A proposition on the ballot that could nix a legacy of 40 years of environmental legislation: and Goldenhersh stated that about $US150 million will be spent on that fight.
Enviance has a host of resources on a portal devoted to AB 32.
One prediction about California politics is that they are often unpredictable. Californians often have a history of electing the most colorful and then bland personalities. Gadflies like Brown and Reagan were followed by the pallid Deukmejian, Wilson, and Davis. And yet Californians tend to frown on folks who try to buy elections, as Al Checchi, Michael Huffington, and most recently, PG&E found out. Stay tuned—the ride to November will be a tumultuous one!