When California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed AB 32 into law in September 2006, he made California a leader in climate change. AB 32 requires California to establish the first-in-the-world comprehensive program of regulatory and market mechanisms to achieve real, quantifiable, cost-effective reductions of greenhouse gases. The bill helped move California forward in addressing the causes of climate change.
Now private interests are attempting to delay the implementation of AB 32. Measure 09-0104 seeks to delay the implementation of AB 32 until unemployment reaches 4.8%, the level it was when AB 32 was passed. Proponents are currently in the process of gathering enough signatures to put the measure on the November ballot.
The measure was submitted by Thomas Hiltachk, partner at Bell, McAndrews, & Hiltachk. Recent clients of this firm, according to SourceWatch, include Philip Morris; Ted Costa, the man responsible for leading the recall election against Gray Davis; and anti-union groups. Some proponents of the measure continue to debate whether global warming is even caused by humans. Unsurprisingly, as reported by the Sacramento Bee and the New York Times, refiners Valero and Tesoro provided initial funding for the bill.
In years previous to 2009, industry leaders Valero and Tesoro were reaping record profits due to high oil prices. In 2009, both corporations saw share prices plummet and profits weakened by reduced gasoline demand. So they’re worried by AB 32, with good reason. AB 32 will cost these companies and other big polluters a lot of money to implement new monitoring procedures and equipment and to pay fees if they exceed new caps on pollution. What big polluters, and Californians, need to remember is that they should pay these costs; they have been getting a free ride, on the backs of the public, for years. AB 32 simply turns the real cost of pollution back on the polluters. The concept is rational and simple: you pollute, you pay. It’s a fair bill, and it comes at a critical moment in our natural history.
Backers of the Measure 09-0104 say that AB 32 is costly for Californians, at a time when we can least afford it. But in reality, concern for Big Polluters’ falling profits, not for consumers, is driving this statute. Emissions reporting costs and fees for overpolluting cannot reasonably be passed to consumers. Companies will have to eat these costs, thus reducing their profit. Meanwhile, consumers will see gains, in reduced pollution and cleaner air. In the long term, as the clean energy economy comes into play as a direct result of AB 32, California will see even more gains, in new jobs and improved energy technology. Corporations are insidiously using the current high unemployment rate as a justification to suspend AB 32, calling Measure 09-0104 a “jobs initiative.” Shame on them. To play on Californians’ fears and concerns about the recession is reprehensible.
AB 32 includes a provision allowing the Governor of California to suspend AB 32 in “extraordinary circumstances,” such as an economic recession. But Governor Schwarzenegger has said he will not suspend AB32. Kudos to the governor for sticking to his principles. He understands that now is not the time to postpone real action against climate change. To his real and immense credit, Governor Schwarzenegger understands that what there is to gain – investing in and jump-starting the new energy economy – is far more important, for current and future generations of California, than what there is to lose.
The large corporations of the world continually exploit the fear of the working person: if my costs go up, you could lose your job. If I’m not making record profits, your livelihood is in jeopardy. The basis of this argument is meaningless in the current state of emergency with regard to climate change. Their argument continues to promote short-term gain over long-term stability. Favoring the short-term over the long-term has gotten us into trouble in every way imaginable, from the economy to the environment to our very own physical health. AB 32 very well may cost corporations, but it will ultimately benefit Californians and the nation immensely.
To overturn that historic moment when Schwarzenegger signed AB 32 into law because of a handful of private corporations aren’t attaining the record profits they achieved in previous years is not in the interest of California. If Measure 09-0104 makes it to the November ballot, it will be up to Californians to recognize what is right and just by preserving AB 32.
California alone cannot reverse global warming caused by emission of greenhouse gases. California can, however, send an important message – that we will no longer allow the abuse and degradation of the natural world without consequence – and set a precedent for other states and even nations to follow. Schwarzenegger wisely recognizes this. Come November, let’s hope the rest of California does, too.