Proposition 23‘s supporters are willing to spend a fortune to convince voters in California to wield “majority-rule” veto power to roll back AB 32, the clean energy bill. The bill was enacted to phase California off of dirty fossil fuels by gradually cutting greenhouse emission levels in California starting in 2012. One of the bill’s provisions, allowed the governor to use his “veto” power to suspend the legislation if “extraordinary circumstances” are in place. But Governor Schwarzenegger has refused to suspend AB 32’s implementation – which sets the scene for November’s election battle.
The problem with “suspending” AB 32 is that Proposition 23’s fine print prohibits clean air standards from being enforced until the state’s unemployment rate drops to a level only achieved three times in the last thirty-four years.
The San Francisco Chronicle reports Tesoro and Valero Energy, Texas oil companies, have contributed $4.5 million to date for Proposition 23. Both companies would extensively benefit by “suspension” of the clean air bill. In 2009, according to information released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Valero and Tesoro’s oil refineries are California’s fourth and eighth largest polluters.
Another supporter, California Manufacturers and Technology Association, an advocacy organization which holds “pro-business” press events publicly to show “support” of Proposition 23’s mandate to suspend the clean energy bill receives financial support from Valero.
Other Proposition 23 supporters are Occidental Petroleum, World Oil Group, Tower Energy Group, the conservative Adam Smith Foundation, and oil and gas billionaire David Koch, an owner of Koch Industries. The University of Massachusetts lists Koch Industries as the nation’s 10th worst air polluter. According to a December 2009 Boston Globe article, Koch has been funneling money to his astro-turf group, “Americans For Prosperity.” The Globe reported: “Just as Koch inherited his oil business from his father, Americans for Prosperity borrows from the ultra-right group also founded in part by his dad, the John Birch Society.”
The John Birch Society is known for effectively using scare tactics. Proposition 23’s campaign also relies on the same type of fear tactics – and a campaign to smear proponents of global warming.
Proponents claim AB 32 will cost a family of four about $4000 more a year. The fear message may resonate with many voters because of California’s high unemployment rate but it does not fairly portray the costs of retaining the status quo.
The National Resource Defense Council’s Climate Facts paper about California’s AB 32 (Apr 2009) states: “Investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy provide up to four times as many jobs as investments in fossil fuel-fired power plants or oil resources.”
You need not accept the “Global Warming” concept to understand how pollution hurts our communities and is costly to businesses. Proposition 23 proponents ignore the hidden costs of fossil fuels. Pollution isn’t free. We subsidize dirty energy in a number of ways – including increased health care costs. The California Lung Association reports that there are 300,000 respiratory illnesses reported each year.
Employers, employees and individuals pay higher health care premiums and costs to insurance risk pools because of health care costs associated with people suffering from respiratory induced illnesses and disabilities. A study prepared by two Cal State Fullerton economic professors concludes dirty air costs California $28 billion annually. Businesses pay the price in lost productivity through missed work days from employees suffering from asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory illnesses or because their employees may need to stay home to care for a child suffering from those conditions.
Proponents of Proposition 23 are also claiming California’s energy costs will skyrocket. Remember Enron and the artificially produced energy crisis?
Businesses need predictable energy costs. AB 32 will actually provide for long term market stability and fixed energy costs for California businesses. As Californians we must invest in renewable energy sources and demand the energy be produced in California because it decreases our reliance on imported energy.
Both state and federal governments should consider implementing capital investment incentives for new equipment to help businesses while AB 32 slowly phases in the clean energy requirements.
Implementing clean energy in California now – not twenty years from now – is not only a public health issue — it’s a matter of economic survival.
Tracy Emblem is an attorney in Escondido.