Global warming will be on the ballot this November after California state officials this week cleared the way for a vote on an industry-backed initiative that could suspend the state’s landmark 2006 climate change statute.
Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vowed to fight to preserve the 2006 law, ensuring the Golden State will witness a major power struggle over the future of renewable energy that is likely to draw national and international attention.
“This initiative sponsored by greedy Texas oil companies would cripple California’s fastest-growing economic sector, reverse our renewable energy policy and decimate our environmental progress for the benefit of these oil companies’ profit margins,” Mr. Schwarzenegger said in a statement.
Despite intense opposition from environmental groups, state officials announced Tuesday that the initiative had garnered enough signatures to gain a place on the November ballot.
With the Obama administration struggling to pass a national climate bill curbing greenhouse gas emissions through Congress, supporters of the “California Jobs Initiative” warn that the state cannot afford its own, even tougher global warming law on emissions, particularly at a time of high unemployment and mounting deficits in Sacramento.
The initiative, launched six months ago by Texas oil titans Valero Energy Corp. and Tesco Corp., would suspend California’s global warming law until unemployment falls by more than half. Opponents say that the state has met the economic benchmarks outlined in the measure for only three brief periods in the past three decades.
While the oil giants sparked the initiative effort, the proposal has attracted local sponsors as well, with both the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and the California Manufacturers and Technology Association pushing the initiative drive.
The global warming law, passed in 2006, limits greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles, oil refineries and other industry sources. Law sponsors say the measure has created a vast market in California for clean, alternative energy sources such as solar and wind power.
The law - formally known as Assembly Bill 32 - requires that 33 percent of the state’s electricity come from renewable energy sources by the year 2020. This would be a significant increase; in 2007, 11.8 percent of all electricity came from renewable energy resources. AB 32 also sets the state’s greenhouse gas emission levels in 1990 as the target to be achieved by 2020.
Citing multiple studies, backers of the oil industry’s initiative claim that complying with the directives of the law will ravage the state’s business community and have a detrimental effect on family budgets.
“AB 32 will impose billions of dollars in higher utility rates and fuel prices on California families when they can least afford it,” said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and co-chairman of the initiative campaign.
The initiative - according to Secretary of State Debra Bowen, the sixth proposition to qualify for the ballot - would postpone the enforcement of the global warming law until the state’s unemployment sinks from its current rate of 12.4 percent to 5.5 percent, and stays at that level or lower for at least a year.
Critics say AB 32 will cost the state 1.1 million jobs and devastate budgets of California social service agencies through massive losses in tax revenue. They have gone so far as to dub the climate law as an “energy tax.”
“Moving ahead with AB 32 at this point in time will do nothing to slow global warming, but it will cost Californians billions in higher taxes and more expensive energy at a time of record-high unemployment and a severe recession,” said Mr. Coupal.
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