No political battle in the upcoming November election is as easy to sloganeer as the battle over Proposition 23, a measure that would suspend the state’s landmark global warming law, AB 32. Depending on your point of view, the measure is either about “jobs over the environment” or “Texas Oil Companies Meddling in California.”
Across the state, the effort to repeal AB 32 at the ballot box has been lampooned as an effort by Texas oil companies Valero and Tesoro to overturn a law that would, in the long run, severely reduce their bottom lines. And what if this reducing emissions thing catches on in other states? It could be a catastrophe for the oil industry.
The only high-profile politician who supports the measure is the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate, Carly Fiorina. Democrat Jerry Brown, who is running for governor, is against it. So is the man he wants to replace, Arnold Schwarzenegger. The Republican gubernatorial nominee, Meg Whitman, claims she is against it even though she embraces the idea of delaying the law for one year. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa laughs at it, and the Los Angeles Times editorializes against it. Senators Boxer and Feinstein? They’re both against it too.
This lack of political support is reflected in a Field poll released earlier this week that showed a an 11 point gap, 45 percent to 34 percent running against passage of the proposition. The bedrock of support for the measure seems to be the uneducated. The less time you’ve spent in the classroom, the more likely you are to support Proposition 23.
Jobs, jobs, jobs. The proponents of Prop. 23 would like the conversation to be about the jobs the state will allegedly lose if it tries to clean its air by mandating clean energy and green transportation. But instead the conversation in public forums has been about Texas, oil companies and Texas oil companies. Go ahead, try and find an article about this ballot measure that doesn’t mention Texas or the law’s fiscal support from “big oil companies.”
Of course, even a conversation on jobs doesn’t necessarily favor those placing “jobs over the environment.” A coalition led by clean energy companies is battling back at the impression that the only way to protect jobs is to embrace pollution. Joining that campaign are utility companies and even Shell Gasoline, another major petro-chemical company. California has become the national leader in jobs that create products that reduce oil dependence and air pollution in part because of the market created by state laws. Given recent headlines that China has surpassed America as the top producer of green technologies, pro-environment interests from around the country are just as vested in preserving California’s environmental laws as “Texas Oil Companies” are in repealing them.
A recent study of campaign donations by the environmental mega-blog GRIST for and against Proposition 23 showed that $7.5 million of the $8.3 million raised in support of Prop. 23 come from corporations, many of which are out of state petro-chemical companies. Conversely, the campaign against the ballot measure is coming mostly from individuals followed by “other organizations” such as labor unions and environmental groups. Surprisingly, the campaign against Prop. 23 has actually raised more money than the oil company backed ballot measure.
There’s a lot of talk nationally about an “enthusiasm gap” between political progressives and their more energized conservative counterparts. But when it comes to the fight over clean air, the grassroots energy, and money, is backing the environment in California.