We’re not sure what convinced Meg Whitman to call for the suspension of AB 32 – California’s landmark greenhouse gases reduction law – although clearly some highly-paid, airhead adviser assured her that it would help her among conservative voters in the Republican primary for governor.
Actually, even that’s kind of hard to believe since the Field Poll found that nearly seven in 10 Republicans surveyed last year thought AB 32 was a good idea. But for whatever reason – and she cites the “ongoing economic crisis” – Whitman has called for suspending the law and taking other actions to weaken the California Environmental Quality Act.
It’s a classic false choice – that we have to choose between a strong economy and environmental protections – but eMeg has decided to posit it. At a time when the Obama administration is using federal stimulus money and other initiatives to push for the development of a green economy, Whitman’s political mission has become convincing Californians that going backward on the environment is going forward on the economy.
So in an instant, she elevated greenhouse gas emissions and global warming to high-profile status as an issue in the governor’s race, in a far more dramatic way than SF Mayor Gavin Newsom ever could have, despite all his compelling commitment to growing the green economy.
The reaction to Whitman from environmental forces – who were dying to inject their issues into the governor’s race – was predictable outrage. But even Gov. Schwarzmuscle, who had signed the law, had to respond. “I would pay no attention to this kind of rhetoric and look toward the substance,” he said. “This is not a political issue.”
Not a political issue? You gotta be kidding! It doubles down an approach Attorney General Jerry Brown’s office has been pushing – with lawsuits (now settled) against San Bernardino and Stockton and a complaint against Pleasanton: forcing local jurisdictions, on the basis of SB 375 and other legislation, to include greenhouse gas emissions and global warming when they revise their general plans or evaluate the environmental impacts of significant development proposals.
And it guarantees that environmental issues – including Tranquillon Ridge and other offshore oil drilling, a potential oil severance tax, global warming, greenhouse gas emissions, clean technologies, green building standards, etc. – will be key in the debate over who should be governor.
Former Congressman Tom Campbell, who is seeking the GOP nomination for governor, disagrees with eMeg: He argues that AB 32 can be implemented in California without hurting the state’s economy by lowering business taxes by exactly the amount of revenue that would be generated by a carbon tax.
But Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner’s position isn’t much different from eMeg’s: “Steve believes that AB 32 must be modified so that it is consistent with greenhouse gas regulation at the federal level,” said campaign spokesman Jarrod Agen “California is not an economic or environmental island and cannot afford to have environmental regulations like AB 32, which are completely out of sync with national standards.”
Standing against AB 32, Calbuzz thinks, is pretty dumb political strategy. The GOP electorate is not going to decide whom to support based on who’s tougher on environmental regulation. The environment has never been a decisive issue for Republican voters in California that we’re aware of.
But in a general election, the environment is one of those threshold issues that voters use to decide whether even to consider a candidate. Like abortion. Nobody says abortion is the No. 1 issue facing California. But for many voters – especially women, Republicans and Democrats alike – once they hear that a candidate is pro-life, they don’t care what that candidate’s position is on broader issues like the economy, taxes, education and public safety.
Same with the environment. A candidate who is seen as anti-environment is going to have trouble getting voters even to listen to his or her message on the other issues. So when PPIC finds that 75% of the voters say it is necessary to take steps to counter the effects of global warming right away and that 75% also say global warming poses a serious threat to the state’s economy and quality of life, why in the world would you take a position against landmark legislation to combat climate change?
You wouldn’t. At least if you were Newsom and Brown — who are squarely in the AB 32 camp. (Newsom also supports an oil severance tax while Brown – through spokesman Steve Glazer – weasels: “We don’t think the tax code can be changed one piece at a time. It will take a more integrated approach.”) Campbell’s position on AB 32 – perhaps a bit precious as he is wont to be – at least wouldn’t cast him as an anti-enviro in a general election.
“We can find a way to achieve both good environmental results and good economic growth results, in the public policy of our state,” Campbell says.
That sounds a lot like Governors Pete Wilson and Arnold Schwarzenegger on the environment. But eMeg sounds more like Governors Dan Lungren and Bill Simon.
“AB32 may have been well intentioned,” she said. “But it is wrong for these challenging times . . . In January, the first AB32 mandates take effect and will lead to higher energy costs at a time when we can least afford them. They will discourage job creation and could kill any recovery.”
PS: For a smart take on Meg and AB 32, check out this piece by former Assemblyman John Laird, one of the bill’s early authors.