Temperatures are running high here in Southern California this week, and after the intense run-up to the Nov. 2 general election, it feels a bit like we're all in a giant pressure cooker.
In California, we not only elected a new governor (after seven years, it's time to bid Schwarzenegger adieu), but also cast votes for senators, congressional representatives and a handful of important state officials. Additionally, Southland residents considered nine ballot measures, two of which dealt directly with environmental laws and regulations.
And the results of yesterday's election?
PROPOSITION 23: DEFEATED
What a tangled electoral web we weave
This election cycle found AB 32, the landmark Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006
, challenged by Prop 23. AB 32 sets an ambitious goal to cut state greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020, and is part of California's bid to be a leader in environmental and energy reform. The hope is that as AB 32 is enacted (the process for cutting emissions is set to begin in 2012), a "green collar" jobs and clean energy sector will grow in California, and air quality
, a continuing issue, will improve. To many on both sides of the political aisle, AB 32 is a step in the right direction for the country as we address the complex matter of climate change.
Prop 23, however, aimed to put a freeze on AB 32's efforts to curb warming. Backed mainly by oil companies
, the proposed legislation would have put a hold on requirements for significant polluters to report their greenhouse gas emissions, at least until state unemployment drops below 5.5 percent for three consecutive quarters (which has happened exactly three times
The issues around Prop 23 resulted in some unexpected alignments. Our Republican governor, Mr. Schwarzenegger
, is a proud sponsor of AB 32 and touts signing it into law in 2006 as one of his main achievements. He stood firmly against
Prop 23. Prominent Republican George Shultz also spoke out in support of AB 32, framing opposition to Prop 23 as a national security issue
and dispensing some sharp criticisms of the measure.
It looks like the backers of Prop 23
are already preparing a challenge to the defeat. Fresno County printed the wrong wording
on its ballots, neglecting to incorporate a change ordered by a Sacramento Supreme Court judge. Language in the proposal originally referred to "major polluters," but the judge's ruling ordered it changed to "major sources of emissions." Fresno County Clerk Victor Salazar said it was too late to change the ballots, but the county issued a press release and posted the correct language at all polling places. The difference seems a little semantic, but conservatives argue that the offensive word "polluters" might have prejudiced voters against Prop 23.
PROPOSITION 26: PASSED
Wolf in sheep's clothing
As for Prop 26, which the Huffington Post
called a "sneak attack" on emissions regulation, the exact text
reads: "Requires that certain state and local fees be approved by two-thirds vote. Fees include those that address adverse impacts on society or the environment caused by the fee-payer's business."
essentially gives "fee-payers," also known as polluting businesses, whose actions result in "adverse impacts on society or the environment" a "get out fee
free" card, because our notoriously fractious state legislature rarely wrangles a two-thirds majority for anything, including the budget. Prop 26 will let offenders off the hook for such things as air, water and other pollution created by their activities, or improper handling of hazardous materials
in a way that endangers the public or the environment.
Passage of Prop 26 is discouraging. It's reasonable to think that weaker penalties could correlate with weaker compliance. Also, the new legislation could present a challenge to enforcement of greenhouse gas emissions penalties outlined in AB 32, according to Business Week
An interesting thing I noticed about Prop 26: California Secretary of State information on campaign finances
for the proposition shows that one
committee was formed and registered with the state in support of Prop 26, while there were five
committees formed to oppose its passage. That one support group raised over $13 million since the beginning of 2010. Numbers available for the five opposing committees show their campaign dollars came in at just under $3 million.
California saw some mixed results from voters this time around in terms of the environment. We certainly do have to be vigilant about protecting public health in the face of corporate interests. On the bright side, yesterday we also elected leaders who will keep the environment in mind: Governor-elect Jerry Brown is a clean energy enthusiast, and Senator Boxer, who kept her seat, has a history of strong environmental advocacy.