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Battle Lines Drawn Over AB 32 As Oil Companies Qualify Ballot Measure

7:21 AM PDT on June 25, 2010

Refinery_pic_small.jpgPhoto: Thomas Hawk.

Though California Secretary of State Debra Bowen yesterday certified a November ballot measure
asking voters to suspend AB 32, a landmark state law requiring a
significant cut in greenhouse gas emissions, AB 32 supporters have been
organizing for months and have formed a significant coalition to fight
the initiative.

In a move usually associated with
congressional Republicans, they've also honed their message to clarion
simplicity: Support a clean energy future or support Big Oil.

Californians for Clean Energy Jobs,
the coalition supporting AB 32, argues the paradigm is no longer about
jobs versus the environment, but supporting an innovative economy that
benefits the environment .

"It's not a battle between tree
huggers and business," said Steve Maviglio, the spokesperson for
Californians for Clean Energy Jobs. Maviglio said he was impressed that
over 350 supporters had already stepped up, including heavy political
hitters like the Association of American Retired Persons (AARP), the
American Lung Association, the California Teachers Association, the
California League of Women's Voters and the California Nurses
Association.

"These are groups the American people trust and they don't trust oil companies," he said.

The
poison pill in the ballot measure, according to Maviglio, is the
provision that would suspend AB32 until California's unemployment rate
falls below 5.5 percent for four consecutive quarters, something that
has only happened three times in the last 30 years. California's
jobless rate is currently at 12.3 percent.

While
the bulk of support for the coalition comes from the clean energy
sector, Maviglio said Virgin America, deeply reliant on traditional
petroleum fuels, was a member because they wanted to be on the right
side of the issue. He also noted that Chevron and the California
Chamber of Commerce were staying out of the fight because of the
significance of AB 32.

San Francisco Mayor Newsom clearly got the memo and stayed on message in an impassioned speech at a press
conference yesterday that also showed that he's in full-stride in his campaign for Lt.
Governor.

"This is an outrage. As a Californian, I'm offended that
these big oil
companies have come into our state and are trying to buy a roll-back to
an old dirtier and darker economy," he said. "This is a fundamental
question that we have to ask ourselves about what kind of state we are,
what kind of people we are, and what we want to represent to the rest of
this world."

Presser_Pope_Newsom.jpgSierra
Club National Chair Carl Pope at yesterday's press conference, flanked
by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and other AB 32 supporters. Photo:
Matthew Roth.

At the same press conference, Sierra Club
Chair Carl Pope pointed to the two primary funders of the ballot
initiative, Texas-based oil companies Valero and Tesoro, which he said
contributed nearly 80 percent of the $3 million dollars to qualify the
measure for the ballot.

"They don't want you to know this
suspends clean air laws, they don't want you to know this is another
big oil bailout for polluters and they don't want you to know who's
behind this at all," said Pope, who noted Valero and Tesoro are two of
California's biggest polluters and personally stand to gain
significantly if AB 32 goes away.

He noted that front groups for the oil companies, such as the California Jobs Initiative,
couldn't be pleased with the wording of the initiative as it will be
written on the ballot because it so pointedly depicts the effort to
repeal the pollution controls in AB 32.

"There's one piece of really good news about this ballot measure," said Pope. "You don't need to read the fine print."

The
initiative "suspends air pollution control laws requiring major
polluters to report and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause
global warming until unemployment drops below specified level for full
year," reads the full text as it will appear on the ballot.

Many
opponents of the measure see the action by the oil companies as a
maneuver to outflank national carbon reduction standards, given
California's leadership on environmental standard from fuel efficiency
to building regulations

"The fossil fuel companies are
being cynical but probably pretty strategic in saying, 'listen, if we
can drive the stake through the heart of environmental policy in
California, just imagine the chilling effect it's going to have in the
country,'" Wade Crowfoot of the Environmental Defense Fund told
Streetsblog. "[Oil companies] are making a bet that they can actually
stop the progress toward equaling the playing field for renewable
energy."

Crowfoot and Mayor Newsom both highlighted the
enormous investment in cleantech companies that has resulted from the
passage of AB 32. California is host to 12,000 cleantech companies with
over 500,000 employees
and more of these companies are relocating their worldwide headquarters
to California than any other state by an enormous margin, said Newsom.
Since 2006, when AB 32 was passed, $9 billion has poured into
California's cleantech sector, $2.1 billion alone last year.

"Investment
buys jobs," said Crowfoot. As to criticism that cleantech only
represents a small portion of jobs in California, Crowfoot said: "So
was the computer, so was the micro-processor, but are you going to
defend the typewriter factory?"

Despite a wide majority
of Californians telling pollsters they support AB 32, political adepts
like Crowfoot and Maviglio clearly understand the power and reach of
big money in politics. Though no one knows exactly how much the oil
companies will spend on the campaign, estimates range from between
$50-100 million.

If the oil companies harp enough on the
jobs angle and the economy doesn't improve much by November, AB 32
supporters are worried voters might be convinced by their argument.

"The
facts are on our side, but the name of the game is being able to have
the resources to beat back their arguments and be able to tell the
truth," said Crowfoot. "Political advertising can greatly impact the
election. If you have $80 million spent by oil companies going up on TV
saying this is a jobs killer, we need to be there to counter the
message."

Maviglio
acknowledged the Gulf of Mexico oil spill was great PR to help them
beat back the message by Valero and Tesoro, but he said, "In 90 percent
of campaigns, whoever spends the most money wins."

Though he
expected to be outspent significantly, Maviglio said they would rely on
traditional political campaigning and intelligent messaging to get the
facts to the public.

"It's going to be a full-scale battle with every component of the campaign," he said.

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