In 2006, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law Assembly Bill 32, the first state global warming legislation to cap greenhouse gas emissions across all sectors of the economy. The law calls for capping greenhouse gas emissions in 2012 and reducing emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.
Supporters say AB 32 will help slow climate change while creating jobs, improving the health of California residents and creating local energy sources that keep energy money from leaving the state. A recent Union of Concerned Scientists study showed that the cost for small businesses of AB 32, which has not yet been implemented, would be negligible.
Tom Bowman, president of Bowman design group, also wanted to find out about the costs of AB 32, so he set out for his company to meet or exceed the law's emissions reductions goals. As a result, the group cut its emissions by 65% and saved close to $9,000 a year in costs, with all capital investments in efficiency and technology being re-paid within 15 months.
"We proved the business case for a small business," says Bowman. "It's easy to beat those standards and save money at the same time, which is not the message you're hearing in the political rhetoric."
In fact, that rhetoric is making quite contrary claims.
Although California is the leading state in clean energy jobs and investment — its green jobs sector growth was 2.5 times faster than overall economic growth — opponents say the law is too expensive and will cost the state jobs. Particularly at a time when California is facing over 12% unemployment and budget deficits, they want to slow down implementation.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman has already promised to suspend AB 32 if elected, creating public strife with fellow Republican Schwarzenegger, who has been unequivocal in his support for the climate law.
Some of the law's opponents are also trying to gather signatures for an initiative on the November ballot that would suspend implementation of AB 32 until the state's unemployment level is below 5.5% for a year.
"It's a deceptive initiative," says Steve Maviglio of Forza Communications, who has been hired by Californians for Clean Energy Jobs, a coalition of environmental groups and businesses, to speak on behalf of AB 32. "Only three times in the last 30 years has the state had 5.5% unemployment for 4 consecutive quarters."
Maviglio believes the initiative to suspend AB 32 would deter billions of dollars of investment in clean energy in the state and be harmful for businesses that have to comply by creating uncertainty as to whether or not the law would go into affect.
"There's one agenda here and it's to kill our attempt to have a clean energy economy for California," he said.
The ballot initiative to suspend AB 32 is being strongly supported by Congressman Tom McClintock and freshman Assembly member Dan Logue.
Logue's attempt to repeal AB 32 through the legislative process was soundly defeated in January. Maviglio calls both Logue and McClintock "extremist tea party" politicians. Anti-AB 32 sentiment and praise for Logue and McClintock is found on a number of self-proclaimed California "tea party" blogs and web sites.
The two are joined by anti-tax activist Ted Costa, who has also tried to move ballot initiatives on redistricting and making the California legislature part time. Last week, KFI-AM Los Angeles talk radio shock-jocks John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou referred to AB 32 as "the global-warming final solution act" claiming it was being promoted by "fascist, Nazi" officials. The Suspend AB 32 web site ominously warns those outside California to "stop it here before it reaches you."
What's in a Name?
Already, though, AB 32 opponents are being pushed back.
The proposed initiative title for gathering signatures was the Orwellian "California Jobs Initiative," but the office of Attorney General — and potential Democratic gubernatorial candidate — Jerry Brown is responsible for designating the initiative name and summary under California law. Brown's office is forcing signature gatherers to list the full name of the initiative on the petition for signature: "Suspends Air Pollution Control Laws Requiring Major Polluters to Report and Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions That Cause Global Warming Until Unemployment Drops Below Specified Level for Full Year."
The proponents of suspending AB 32 have said that they may consider legal action against the attorney general's office to have the name and summary changed back. There is also an attempt to get an initiative on the ballot that would strip the attorney general of the initiative naming and summary responsibility which is waiting for a name and summary from Brown's office for signature gathering.
Maviglio says that previous push polling (using leading questions to sell an idea under the auspices of conducting a poll) showing some support for the ballot initiative used the "California Jobs Initiative" title and is no longer accurate.
There is also a serious question of whether the opposition to AB 32 has the funds to move forward with the initiative, although Logue claims to have $600,000 committed for the signature-gathering effort. Costa told The New York Times last week that the effort desperately needed cash. Maviglio says that they won't likely be able to raise money until they have polls using the "Suspends Air Pollution Control Laws" name that show that the measure will get some public support.
California's utilities are staying neutral on the initiative for now, and no businesses have stepped forward publicly to fund the signature gathering campaign. Jonathan Parfrey, Director of GREEN LA Institute believes that companies are staying away because they realize that any company that funds the suspension effort will face retribution in the market place.
"What company wants to put its name out there as the poster child for environmentalists to go after?" Parfrey asks. "Any company that funds this effort will be a target and there will be boycotts against these companies that will be very popular."
On the other hand, many businesses have committed support to AB 32, including 900 members of the California Green Business Alliance.
Susan Frank, who manages the Alliance, explains that its members see great economic opportunity in the implementation of AB 32.
"AB 32 hasn't been implemented yet, so suggesting that the economy is as bad as it is because of AB 32 is a false claim," says Frank. "But it has already stimulated the green economy. Companies are coming to California because of the promise of AB 32. In fact, the only part of the California economy growing right now is the green economy."
Schwarzenegger has echoed these sentiments, saying that the green sector is growing 10 times faster than the rest of California's economy.
Arguments by opponents that AB 32 actually kills jobs and harms the California economy are nothing new, Maviglio says.
"When California changed its energy standards 30 years ago, we heard the same Chicken Little cry about unemployment," Maviglio says, "but it has ended up saving every household $450 a year and creates thousands of jobs. California is always pioneering and that's why we have the competitive edge in the clean energy economy that we do."
Taking the Threat Seriously
While they don't think that McClintock, Logue and Costa have the funds to pull off a successful signature gathering campaign, supporters of AB 32 are not taking chances.
"We are taking this seriously and in full strategic mode," says Steve Maviglio, "and we are lining up commitments ourselves."
Even though Jonathan Parfrey doesn't believe the ballot initiative will be successful either, he is concerned that threats to AB 32 being implemented are not going away.
"These people against AB 32 have an old world view of the economy, a view that hasn't worked," says Parfrey. "Why are we consigning ourselves to future poverty by following the ways of the past?"
Steve Westly, a venture capitalist and former state controller, puts it more starkly: "There is a vocal contingent within the conservative movement that will stop at nothing to kill AB 32."
(Photo: Office of the Governor of California)