Prop 23 would hobble climate and energy policy in U.S.
(UPDATE: Prop 23 was defeated by California voters, 61% voting against it and 39% voting in favor. But that's no reason to stop reading this excellent piece, the broader argument is still both valid and relevant. -Ed.)
The 'states as laboratories of democracy' is a popular, if not always apt, description of how some policy manifests in this country, emerging first at the state level for a trial before being considered at the federal level. There are many examples of the laboratory of democracy in the realm of U.S. environmental policy, but no state has run more experiments in its lab than California.
Proposition 23, which California voters are considering on November 2, would effectively suspend California's Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. The act, also known as AB 32 is another in a long line of California environmental laws that leads the country in terms of legal stringency but also in terms of national policy direction.
Requiring that greenhouse gas emission levels in the state be cut to 1990 levels by 2020, a process which is slated to begin in 2012, AB 32 goes further than any other global warming law in the country.
If enacted, Prop 23 would freeze AB 32 until California's unemployment rate drops to 5.5% for four straight quarters -- something that has only happened three times since 1980 -- at which time it would kick back in. But freezing AB 32 for any period of time, let alone an indefinite one, would be bad for not only California, but also the rest of the U.S. and the world.
If California can't lead and the U.S. won't lead, who will?
While the U.S. Government established and enforced the first environmental regulatory regime in the country (and the world), the federal government has been unable or willing to maintain its position as a global leader in the protection of the environment. As a direct result of federal abdication on this front, the U.S. has fallen behind Europe and China in the clean energy sector. But in that vacuum, a handful of states have dabbled in climate and clean energy by passing renewable energy standards and entering greenhouse gas compacts with neighboring states. Sure, maybe federalism isn't the greatest system to enact these kinds of laws, but it's the only one James Madison, et al left us with.
All of that leadership in the creation of progressive environmental policy in California has at times left many other states scoffing at first, then either passing similar legislation or scrambling to catch up once the federal government follows suit, as was the case with California's vehicle fuel economy and emissions standards, which the EPA adopted eight years after it was approved in California.
California is also on its way to fulfilling portions of AB 32 that put it at the forefront of environmental policy in the U.S. including meeting requirements that one-third of the state's electricity come from solar, wind and other renewable sources within a decade; and the phasing the purchase of coal-fired electricity from out-of-state power plants
Too much out-of-state influence on state-level policy
It wouldn't be a stretch to say that the majority of the money bankrolling Prop 23 is coming from beyond California's borders. The primary backers of behind Prop 23 are Texas based oil companies, Tesoro Corp. and Valero Energy, along with the same billionaire brothers behind the Tea Party movement, Charles and David Koch, who own oil refineries in Alaska, Texas and Minnesota. The fossil fuel companies supporting Prop 23 say it would put undue economic burdens on refineries in particular, costing them tens of millions of dollars annually.
But opponents of Prop 23 argue that freezing AB 32 now would cripple one of the few industries in California which has shown growth in the recession, the clean energy sector.
“California’s Global Warming Solutions Act is like a job-creation machine for California,” says Van Jones, Center for American Progress Senior Fellow and former green jobs advisor to President Barack Obama. “Why would Californians let some Texas oil companies come into their state and smash their job creation machine just to protect their profits?”
Taking Van Jones one further, do we really want out-of-state companies to go into a state, initiate and orchestrate a multi-million dollar campaign to pass a statewide ballot measure that does away with a pioneering piece of state legislature? I would argue a firm, no. Especially when those very same out-of-state interests are also funneling millions of dollars into the campaigns of candidates who are running under the banner of increased states rights?
A setback for clean energy and job creation in the U.S.
Shortly after California approved its low-carbon fuels standard as part of AB 32, long time biofuel holdout, Exxon Mobil, invested $600 million in algae biofuels with California biotech firm, Synthetic Genomics. We're talking about Exxon Mobil, a firm that was funding climate skeptics more recently than they'd care to remember. But Exxon Mobil is just one example of how AB 32 has paved the way for one of the few brightspots in an otherwise sluggish economy.
"California’s clean energy sector has continued robust growth despite the economic recession thanks to the Global Warming Solutions Act," write Araceli Ruano and Sean Pool of the Center for American Progress. "Clean energy jobs have grown 10 times faster than the statewide average since 2005, to over 125,000 today. And green jobs grew by 5 percent even when the state experienced an overall job loss of 1 percent between 2007 and 2008."
What did California's global warming law do to generate these jobs? In the absence of federal leadership, AB 32 increased certainty and assured cleantech that there would be demand for their products and services in the coming years.
California's Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 is the most comprehensive climate and clean energy framework going right now in the U.S. But given that Republicans will make significant inroads in both the House and Senate after today's elections, the likelihood that there will be any substantive climate or clean energy legislation coming from Capitol Hill in the next two years is not very strong. And considering the timidity lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have had for cap-and-trade, the U.S. Government may be looking for a new climate and energy policy framework at some point in the foreseeable future.
And who knows? The constituent parts of AB 32 might emerge from the laboratory of democracy in California ready for experimentation on a national level.