No Prop 23 logoImage: Climate Progress

This post first appeared at the Center for American Progress.

This November, California voters are in danger of undoing one of the most progressive pieces of environmental legislation ever passed.

Texas oil companies have taken advantage of California’s quirky initiative system to place Proposition 23 on the ballot. This proposition has one purpose: to undo California’s Global Warming Solutions Act (also known as Assembly Bill 32 or AB 32), which stands as a landmark piece of bipartisan clean energy legislation and is a model for federal action. AB 32 has catalyzed billions of dollars in private sector investment in clean energy in the state-creating jobs, businesses, and new technologies that are leading the nation toward a cleaner energy future.

Repealing the law would damage California’s clean energy economy, severely inhibit the functioning of the United States’ clean energy innovation engine, increase pollution and dependence on foreign oil, and harm chances for comprehensive federal action. Defeating Proposition 23 at the ballot box would be not only a victory for California but also one of the strongest messages California’s voters can send to Washington and the world that we the people have the will to beat Big Oil.

AB 32 is a model of bipartisan clean energy action

The bipartisan Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 was passed by a Democratic-controlled legislature with support from businesses, labor, environmental, and health organizations and signed into law by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. It established the first-ever mandatory reporting guidelines for global warming pollution, and set a statewide limit for carbon that will guide emissions back down to 1990 levels by 2020. This limit is implemented through a scoping plan that includes establishing a price for carbon in addition to tailpipe-emissions standards, a low-carbon fuel standard, building energy-efficiency standards, and a statewide renewable electricity standard of 33 percent by 2020.

The approach crafted by the state’s legislature and implemented by the California Air Resources Board resembles the strategy pursued by Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), and others in the U.S. Senate. Over the past three years this approach has helped thousands of clean energy businesses in California grow, invest billions of dollars in clean technology industries, and create hundreds of thousands of jobs [PDF].

The deceptive oil industry-funded repeal proposition

The effort to undermine California’s pioneering clean energy law recently qualified for the November ballot under the name “Proposition 23” thanks to a multimillion-dollar campaign funded by Texas-based oil giants Valero Energy Corp and Tesoro Corp, two of the top 10 biggest polluters in the state. The initiative would, in its own words [PDF], “Suspend State laws requiring reduced greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming, until California’s unemployment rate drops to 5.5 percent or less for four consecutive quarters.”

The campaign has deceptively framed Proposition 23 a “jobs” initiative and used the word “suspend” rather than “repeal” to increase the initiative’s appeal to moderates. But a closer inspection reveals the deception. The initiative could mean permanent repeal of California’s landmark bipartisan clean energy law because unemployment has only been below 5.5 percent three times since 1970. The initiative’s sponsors are, of course, fully aware of this, but they have intentionally hidden their motives.

The oil companies funding the Proposition 23 campaign are turning AB 32 into a scapegoat and blaming it for recent job losses caused by the recession. But the California Legislative Analyst’s Office found that the oil companies’ central argument that California’s climate policies have destroyed jobs contained “a number of serious shortcomings that render its estimates of the annual economic costs of state regulations essentially useless.” As we show below, California’s pioneering clean energy law has in fact spurred private investment and created thousands of new companies, jobs, and new patents. Repeal would cripple these emerging clean energy industries, resulting in lower [PDF], not higher, employment.

This is not the first time out-of-state corporate interests have attempted to “buy” a California ballot initiative for their own benefit. California’s unique political system means that anyone with enough money can deploy hundreds of canvassers to gather the necessary signatures to place a referendum on the ballot. Just this past spring, for example, Mercury Car Insurance Company spent $16 million on advertising and signature gathering to place Proposition 17 on the ballot. The initiative would have allowed car insurance companies in California to impose surcharges on certain motorists for virtually any reason, but it was defeated at the polls in the June 8 California election. Proposition 23 should meet a similar fate.

Proposition 23 would increase pollution, dependence on foreign oil, and household energy costs

Make no mistake: While the Texas oil companies are selling the repeal initiative as if it is a good deal for the economy, the repeal is really just good for them. Proposition 23 would let polluters off the hook for the harm their emissions do to surrounding communities and the environment, and it would also put California back on the path of ever-increasing dependence on ever-more-expensive energy.

The American Lung Association shows that poor air quality contributes to 19,000 premature deaths, 9,400 hospitalizations, and 300,000 cases of respiratory illness each year in California alone. The Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 works to lower emissions of both greenhouse gasses and toxic pollutants, resulting in hundreds of fewer premature deaths each year in California. Repealing the clean air law would allow big refiners and power plants to continue polluting as before.

Since California’s major sources of pollution are most likely to be located in low-income neighborhoods and near communities of color, Proposition 23 would disproportionately affect those least able to cope. According to a University of Southern California study, the five smoggiest cities in California also have the highest densities [PDF] of people of color and low-income residents, and children in poverty disproportionately [PDF] live near facilities emitting toxic air pollution. Proposition 23 would make all of California’s air dirtier, but it would hit communities of color and the poor the hardest.

California’s aggressive energy independence policies also have put the state on a path to reduce its imports of foreign oil, which translates into lower energy costs and less price volatility. But Proposition 23 would eliminate many of these beneficial policies, handicap California’s efforts to become energy independent, and strap California’s economy to the inexorable rise of fossil fuel prices.

Proposition 23’s passage would make electricity 33 percent more expensive in California by the end of this decade, according to a study recently published by a noted University of California economist. This increase in energy costs would cost the state $80 billion in gross domestic product and destroy half a million jobs [PDF] by 2020, and that doesn’t even include the $20 billion in GDP growth and 100,000 new clean energy jobs California will create in the next 10 years if AB 32 can be protected.

Repeal would destroy clean energy businesses and jobs and harm the economy