Prop 23: The Whole World Watches as Narrow Interests and the Planet Collide in California


With the election of 2010 imminent, all eyes that are looking hopefully in the direction of a sustainable future are turned towards California, where two key propositions are providing the opportunity for Golden State voters to show, once again that when it comes to protecting the environment, California is the conscience of the country, if not the world.

Most visible has been Proposition 23, which seeks to suspend the provisions of State Law AB32, the Global Warming Act of 2006, until the state unemployment rate reaches 5.5% for four consecutive quarters, a level that has only occurred for three years since 1980.
Response to the bill has been heated on both sides. Financial support, primarily from oil companies has exceeded $8 million, but this was topped by those opposed, primarily environmental groups, who raised over $11 million from thousands of contributors.

The battle has been called the “bellwether for national climate change initiatives,” and a model for federal cap and trade legislation. Recent polling suggests that the measure is not expected to pass, but the vote could be close.

California has long been an environmental policy leader, both nationally and around the world. Most recently, the tailpipe emission law, passed in 2002 was adapted as the national EPA standard. This new standard is expected to directly save Americans some $32 billion in fuel, not to mention the indirect costs of keeping the oil supply flowing.

Eileen Clausen of the Pew Center for Climate Change says that, “by creating a policy environment of extreme uncertainty, Prop 23 threatens to freeze the currently expanding investment in clean technology in the state. It is also arguably the new ‘battleground’ on comprehensive climate legislation in the U.S., given the current state of affairs in the U.S. Congress.”

On the other hand, David Kreutzer of the Heritage Foundation says, “Current law will force consumers to switch to energy sources that can be four or more times as expensive as conventional energy, driving energy prices up, employers out, and consumers crazy. The current rules make especially little sense in the current economic environment.” He then goes on to describe a GE incandescent light bulb factory in Virginia that is being shut down as the result of the move towards more efficient products. I believe the same thing happened with buggy whips. He bemoans the fact that the replacements will come from China. But that has nothing to do with AB 32. That is the result of GE choosing to ignore the people portion of the triple bottom line.

Rodger Schlickeisen, of Defenders of Wildlife, says that, “the battle that is being played out in the Golden State reflects the gridlock paralyzing the whole country. The passage of Prop. 23 would fuel the resistance of big corporate polluters across the country to take responsibility for cleaning up their dirty operations.”

This is also true for Proposition 26. Although disguised as a measure to limit the legislature’s ability to raise taxes, buried in the language of the law along with taxes are mitigation fees that penalize businesses for causing harm to the environment or to public safety. As a result, the new law, which seeks to amend the state constitution, would make it more difficult for lawmakers to assess these types of fees, thereby letting polluters off the hook. With a two-thirds majority required, that means fewer lawmakers to be bought off. The savings could be considerable. That’s why it should be no surprise that the biggest supporters of Prop 26, like Prop 23, are oil and cigarette companies. Supporters of the bill have raised at least $15 million compared with the roughly $300k that has been raised by the opposition that has been focusing its efforts on Proposition 23.

According to Pew’s Eileen Clausen, “It’s ironic that Prop 23 could be defeated, while Prop 26, backed with multimillion-dollar contributions from the California Chamber of Commerce, Chevron Corporation, and Philip Morris USA Inc., might slide through and have the same effect on AB32, albeit via different means. Passage of either proposition would be a setback to California’s ability to move forward on climate.”

RP Siegel is co-author of the eco-thriller Vapor Trails.

Like airplanes, we all leave behind a vapor trail. And though can we can easily see others’, we rarely see our own.

Follow RP Siegel an Twitter.

RP Siegel

RP Siegel, author and inventor, shines a powerful light on numerous environmental and technological topics. His publications include business and technical articles as well as books. His third, co-authored with Roger Saillant, is Vapor Trails, an adventure novel that shows climate change from a human perspective. RP is a professional engineer - a prolific inventor with 52 patents and President of Rain Mountain LLC a an independent product development group. He is also active in his community of Rochester, NY. A regular contributor to Mechanical Engineering magazine, RP recently returned from Abu Dhabi where he traveled as the winner to the 2015 Sustainability Week blogging competition.. Follow @RPSiegel on Twitter. Contact: bobolink52@gmail.com