California Climate Law Faces Renewed Threats from Big Oil

California Climate Law Faces Renewed Threats from Big Oil

Opponents of California's landmark climate law say they have submitted almost twice the signatures needed to place a ballot measure before voters in November to suspend AB32 until the state's unemployment rate drops by more than half.

Backed by a coalition of business groups and financial contributions from Texas oil interests, the California Jobs Initiative seeks to put the most stringent clean energy mandate in the U.S. on ice until the state's unemployment rate, currently at 12.6 percent, falls to 5.5 percent -- and stays at that mark or better for four consecutive quarters. That statistical achievement has happened only three times in the past 30 years, the Associated Press notes.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed AB 32, the legislative muscle behind his environmental agenda, into law in 2006. Under the law, California must cut its greenhouse gas emission to 1990 levels, a reduction of about 25 percent, by 2020 through measures that include increased renewable energy and cleaner fuel requirements. AB 32 also calls for major polluters, such as power plants and oil refineries, to report and reduce their emissions, and pay fees for not meeting requirements.

{related_content}“The effort to suspend AB 32 is the work of greedy oil companies who want to keep polluting in our state and making profits," Schwarzenegger said yesterday as the initiative backers submitted their signed petitions. "AB 32 will add jobs, create savings in energy costs and increase personal incomes. In fact, the highest job creation California is seeing right now is in our green economy. When I ran for governor, I said if special interests tried to push me around, I would push back. That’s exactly what I will do ..."

Supporters of the initiative say the state economy is too battered to withstand what they contend are billions of dollars in costs for fully implementing AB 32, whose key provisions take effect January 1, 2012.

"While the goals of AB 32 are admirable, clearly the implementation of this at this time ... would be a death knell for many small businesses," John Kabateck, executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business -- California, said at a news conference yesterday.

However, California's Air Resources Board contends in a recent report that AB 32 would have a modest effect on the state's economy while saving the state billions of dollars in avoided fuel expenses. The board issued its report in March amid growing controversy over the cost of AB 32.

According to the state's legislative analyst and director of finance, if the measure to suspend AB 32 is passed, it would have "potential positive, short-term impacts on state and local government revenues from the suspension of regulatory activity, with uncertain longer-run impacts. [With] potential foregone state revenues from the auctioning of emission allowances by state government, by suspending the future implementation of cap-and-trade regulations."

Backing efforts to suspend AB 32 are coalitions of small business and agricultural groups, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and other taxpayers' alliances, several minority chambers of commerce, lumber, logging and dairy groups, the California Republican Party and the Independent Oil Producers Agency.

Lending financial weight to the campaign are Valero Services Inc., which contributed $500,000; Occidental Petroleum, $300,000; and Tesoro Corporation, which contributed $275,000, according to figures from the California Secretary of State's Office reported by the Mercury News.

Lining up in support of AB 32 are companies and business groups -- ranging from Levi Strauss & Co., Waste Management and the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce to major Silicon Valley innovators including Google, Serious Materials and Bloom Energy. Also in the mix are renewable energy and other cleantech firms and environmental, health, labor, good government, faith and student groups. Major contributions came from the Green Tech Action Fund, $500,000; the Natural Resource Defense Council, $87,500; and the Environmental Defense Fund, $75,000.

Today, AARP joined the campaign that calls itself the "Stop the Texas Oil Companies' Dirty Energy Proposition." Yesterday, George Shultz, secretary of state for President Ronald Reagan, became honorary co-chair of the California for Clean Energy and Jobs Coalition. In a prepared statement, Shultz called the attempt to derail AB 33 "misguided" and said such a measure would "seriously harm" efforts to foster a clean energy economy and break dependence on foreign oil.

Backers of the California Jobs Initiative said they submitted petitions on Monday with about 800,000 signatures and needed just under 434,000 to qualify for the November 2 ballot.

Image CC licensed by Flickr user Håkan Dahlström.