Calif. Climate Law Supporters Begin Ballot Battle

November is just 15 weeks away, and the battle over Proposition 23, a ballot measure that would suspend the implementation of California’s landmark climate change legislation, AB32, is heating up. The NRDC has started a YouTube campaign and a policy group, called the Bay Area Council, held a forum on AB32 on Thursday evening to discuss and debate Prop 23.

“Supporters and opponents of AB32 will present their arguments,” said the Council’s website promotion of the event. But that should have read “opponent” rather than “opponents.” Dave Fogarty, spokesman for the California Jobs Initiative, which spearheaded the anti-AB32 campaign, was the only one of the four speakers who actually supports Prop 23.

Given that, the tenor of the event was about as fair and balanced as a Fox News broadcast. But the Bay Area Council admitted its bias, and it was clear that the event was conducted largely as an exercise to drum up support for the campaign to defeat the November ballot measure.

Professor W. Michael Haneman from the Department of Agriculture and Resource Economics at the University of California, Berkeley, argued that suspending AB32 would effectively kill the legislation by crippling the state’s long-term planning. If passed, proposition 23 would suspend AB32 until the state’s unemployment rate drops to 5.5 percent for four consecutive calendar quarters. But that’s not likely to happen any time soon, since, he noted, unemployment has only been this low three times in the past 12 years. If California’s Clean Air Act had been put under similar constraints, he argued, the state would not have seen the marked reduction in pollution it has enjoyed. “Change is long-term, not an overnight pill, or something that can be switched on and off,” he added.

On the other side of the fence, Fogarty argued that the state’s cleantech industry has been growing just fine without AB32 and will continue to do so in the years to come, and that implementing the law would generate too many cost burdens for firms interested in setting up shop in California.

Don Simon, an attorney with Wendel Rosen Black & Dean (the firm in whose Oakland offices the forum was held), countered that the state’s recent growth in cleantech was predicated on AB32’s passage, and that investors are already starting to waver over the uncertainty that Prop 23 is causing. (We heard about this uncertainty earlier this week, from one firm that stands to suffer if Prop 23 passes.)  Other states, he added, are capitalizing on California’s battle over the law, eagerly trying to woo cleantech companies out of the state.

Aaron Singer, managing general partner at Pacific Carbon Exchange, said implementing AB32 will foster new industries in the state, pointing to growth in air scrubber technology and investment that follow the state’s clean air act.

Another of Fogarty’s main arguments was that California will never be able to actually prevent global warming, given its global nature and the fact that it won’t stem carbon emissions in other states or countries (namely, China). In rebuttal, Simon discussed the important leadership role—on not just a state, but also a national level—that California has played in legislation related to climate and air quality. “If California pulls back on climate change and says we’re afraid of climate legislation, then there’s zero chance that there will be a federal law that restricts emissions. So at the end of 2012, we’ll be right back where we were in the late 1970s.”

Freelance writer Mary Catherine O'Connor finds that a growing number of companies are proving the ways that they can make good financially, socially and environmentally (as the triple bottom line theory suggests).With that in mind, she contributes to Triple Pundit, as well as to Earth2Tech and other pubs focused on sustainability. She also writes The Good Route, an Outside Magazine blog that addresses the intersection of sustainability and the active/outdoor life.To find out more, or to reach her, go to www.mcoconnor.com.