Texas oil vs. California clean tech: the battle over Proposition 23
The No campaign’s lurking 800-pound gorilla is Pacific Gas & Electric, California’s largest and most politically active and deep-pocketed utility. PG&E was an early supporter of the global warming law and has come out swinging against Prop 23.
But so far it has not opened its corporate coffers to support the No forces. Cynthia Pollard, a PG&E spokesperson, said utility executives were still discussing what financial support to give the No campaign. (PG&E has not been reluctant to pour money into ballot measures it considers crucial — earlier this year it spent $46 million on an unsuccessful effort to pass Proposition 16, which would have required a two-thirds vote by citizens before municipalities could form their own utilities.)
“We’ve had a long-standing commitment to leadership on climate change,” says Pollard. “Part of that action is to work actively to defeat Proposition 23 by talking to other companies who share those beliefs and asking them to share effort to defeat the proposition.”
Both sides in the Prop 23 fight are playing a game of electoral chicken, trying to ascertain just how much money their opponents will pump into the campaign.
No supporter Warner Chabot, chief executive of the California League of Conservation Voters, warned that pro-Prop 23 forces would raise $50 million to pass the initiative.
Nearly 200 green tech firms have come out in opposition to Prop 23, but only a handful has given money to the No campaign so far.
If past elections are any guide, the current cash flow will become a torrent as the election draws nearer.
“We’re encouraged at the progress we’re making and we’re meeting our targets,” says Notthoff. “It’s a daunting task because you have the proponents of Prop 23 saying they’re going to raise $50 million. We’re never going to beat them at that game but hopefully we’ll hold them.”
Environmental groups have been quicker to open their wallets. The Environmental Defense Fund has donated $75,000. NRDC has given $50,000, in addition to the donations it has funneled through its political action fund. The Sierra Club has contributed a few thousand dollars in services, but executive director Michael Brune said the San Francisco-based group would be active in the campaign.
“It’s just about the biggest fight we have over the next four months,” he told Yale Environment 360 recently. “We’ll be engaging all the Sierra Club California chapters. We’re making it a national priority.”
When the campaign kicks into high gear after Labor Day, also expect to see big donations from groups you
may have never heard of. For instance, the Clean Tech Action Fund, a little known San Francisco organization, has given $500,000 to the No campaign. The group is affiliated with another well-funded but low profile San Francisco grant-making concern, the Energy Foundation, which is bankrolled by a number of national endowments and foundations.
Mary Nichols, head of the California Air Resources Board, appeared at an event at Google last week to drum up Silicon Valley support for the No campaign. Her agency is charged with implementing the state’s global warming law, which requires greenhouse emissions to be slashed to 1990 levels by 2020.
“The national reverberations will be probably even more significant than what happens here in California,” said Nichols of the election’s outcome. “Everywhere I’ve been in past several years since I’ve been in this job, people have pointed to California as the example of why it can be done and how it can be done. When we set a benchmark, other people look to how they can meet it.”
The pro-Prop 23 forces apparently recognize the as-goes-California-so-goes-the nation stakes, judging by the fact that most of the money they’ve raised has come from out of state, according to campaign contribution records.
The bulk of the No contributions are local. The biggest out-of-state donation to date has been $100,000 from Greentech Capital Advisors, a Manhattan financial firm.
Maviglio, the No on Prop 23 spokesman, says he expects that to change in the coming weeks.
“A lot of interest has been vested in action, or inaction, on Capitol Hill, but we’re getting more national attention,” he says. “I think a lot of national players will try to prevent Prop 23 from being a third strike, after Copenhagen and the failure of federal climate change legislation.”
Independent polling shows that a majority of California voters oppose Prop 23 — or least they did in the dog days of summer. A defeat of the initiative would allow California to proceed with initiatives that create state and regional cap-and-trade markets, further pressuring Washington to take action. A victory for Prop 23 could mean a brownout for this new clean green coalition.
More on the Prop 23 battle: