California’s Proposition 23

In California, there is a risk of further rollback of climate change mitigation policies:

IN 2006, the California assembly passed AB32, known in the vernacular as the Global Warming Act of 2006. The measure requires that the state reduce its carbon emissions below 1990 levels by 2020. In this election cycle, that has proven too tempting a political target to ignore, and in November California will vote on Proposition 23, which would suspend AB32 until the state’s employment rate falls below 5.5% for four straight quarters (a condition which has been met just three times since 1976, and which seems rather distant with the state’s unemployment rate currently running at 12%). Proposition 23 has been largely funded by multi-million-dollar donations from two Texas oil companies, Valero Services and Tesoro Companies.

The campaign is largely being funded via multi-million dollar donations from two Texas oil companies: Valero Services and Tesoro Companies.

The situation reveals some of the special dangers associated with climate change policy: big polluters will do whatever they can to block and water down effective policies. Voters are always tempted to delay the necessary transition to carbon neutrality, due to concern about jobs or growth today. Finally, the structure of the political system often effectively prevents the consideration of the welfare of future generations.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

7 thoughts on “California’s Proposition 23”

  1. While it would probably be unconstitutional, it might be a good idea for outsiders to be barred from funding direct democracy campaigns for laws that will only apply in California. Having Texas companies trying to influence California’s internal rules is as inappropriate as when Utah Mormons tried to ban gay marriage there.

  2. 3 September 10
    Koch Industries Donates $1 Million To Prop 23 Effort To Kill California Climate Law

    David and Charles Koch, the billionaire brothers bankrolling the front groups behind the Tea Party and climate denial movement, have added another ’cause’ to their philanthropic endeavors, donating $1 million to the Proposition 23 fight to kill California’s landmark 2006 climate change legislation.

    Koch subsidiary Flint Hills Resources LP handled the laundry duties on this one, but the directive surely came from the heads of the Kochtopus empire – billionaires David and Charles Koch.

    The Kochs have found themselves under an uncomfortable spotlight lately after a thorough investigation by The New Yorker revealed the brothers’ extensive funding of a network of groups that catapulted the ‘grassroots’ Tea Party into play, as well as their financial backing of a sprawling network of climate denier groups that makes even ExxonMobil blush.

    The Los Angeles Times blog ‘Greenspace’ first reported Flint Hills Resources donation towards the Proposition 23 bill last night, noting that the effort was launched by two other oil industry players, Texas-based refinery companies Valero Energy and Tesoro Corp.

    The Kochs have lost much of the anonymity they enjoyed over the past several decades in the political world. Ever since David Koch’s disastrous performance in the 1980 elections when he bought his way onto the Libertarian Party’s ticket as Vice Presidential candidate – a ticket that earned only one percent of the vote – the Kochs have stayed below the radar for the most part.

  3. “Voters are always tempted to delay the necessary transition to carbon neutrality, due to concern about jobs or growth today. ”

    Voters are not swayed by PR campaigns? I have personally received very ornate documents promoting the environment sustainability of oil sands and fish farms. These were probably the best pieces of graphic design I’ve ever recieved as “junk mail”. And, taken with an open (meaning: ignoring what I already know about the issues) mind, they are not unconvincing. These are direct appeals to voters.

  4. Those campaigns probably do have some effect – especially among people who aren’t paying much attention. They might be led to conclude that industry is taking meaningful steps to deal with the climate impact of the oil sands. Of course, the improvements the ads are touting are marginal, and easily overwhelmed by the plans for massively expanded production.

  5. Since a federal cap-and-trade bill made it through the House but died in the Senate, energy and climate change have slipped down the list of national priorities. In California, however, they have not. In 2006 the state forged ahead with a pioneering law called AB32 under which Californians will have to make their cars, factories, houses and appliances gradually more efficient, so that the state reduces its greenhouse-gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. Bipartisan majorities in the state legislature voted for it, and the outgoing governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, considers the law one of his main achievements. Proposition 23, however, now intends to kill it. Technically, it will merely “suspend” its implementation until the state unemployment level falls below 5.5% for a full year. But that is at best years away; California’s unemployment now tops 12%.

    Proposition 23 has become bitterly controversial in part because of its supporters. The campaign has been funded by oil companies from other states, specifically two refiners from Texas and an energy conglomerate, Koch Industries, run by two billionaire brothers from Kansas who are also funding the tea-party movement. Their argument is that AB32 imposes unacceptable costs on firms such as theirs and might therefore force them to cut jobs, which is clearly anathema in this economy.

    This has led to fierce resistance, with the No campaign, co-chaired by a Republican stalwart of credibility, George Shultz. Ronald Reagan’s secretary of state has won the money war with donations from individuals and Silicon Valley. Everybody from its sponsors to its opponents regards Proposition 23 as a weather vane for subsequent energy politics elsewhere. Polls suggest that voters will reject it.

  6. Prop. 23 Goes Up in Smoke

    Despite Texas oil’s vigorous campaign, the measure to freeze California’s climate change law failed at the polls
    By Katharine Mieszkowski on November 2, 2010 – 9:29 p.m. PDT

    California voters appear to have rejected a bid to suspend the state’s landmark global warming law, despite attempts to persuade them that curbing greenhouse gases could cost jobs during a time of staggering unemployment.

    With early returns showing Proposition 23 going down soundly in defeat with 61 percent of voters casting ballots against it, the “No on 23” campaign declared victory.

    “In the midst of a major economic downturn, and with a barrage of fear mongering and scare tactics, voters still said that they want a clean energy future,” said Tom Steyer, co-chair of the campaign, who gave $5 million of his own money to the cause, in a statement.

    Prop. 23 has been one of the most important environmental contests in the country this election season. “It’s a huge win for the clean-energy economy,” said Derek Walker, director of Environmental Defense Fund’s California Climate Initiative. “It means the voters of California see that clean energy jobs are the key to our economic recovery.” The Environmental Defense Fund was one of the founding members of the “No on 23” campaign.

  7. California wins a clean energy and climate trifecta

    California is the only place in the country where climate and clean energy activists aggressively pushed their message across the board in the face of strong, well-funded opposition by Big Oil. The Golden State hints at what might have happened had President Obama embraced action on climate and clean energy — and backed it up with aggressive and consistent messaging as Sen. Barbara Boxer, governor-elect Jerry Brown, and the No-On-Prop-23 coalition did.

    Proposition 23 — “the first and largest public referendum in history on clean energy policy” — brought together an amazing bipartisan coalition to beat back Texas oil companies’ effort to kill California’s landmark climate bill, AB 32.

    Carly Fiorina tried to beat climate hawk Barbara Boxer in the Senate race by flip-flopping on climate action and clean energy (see Politico on CA Senate debate: “Fiorina’s major stumble came on the issue of Proposition 23” and “The dumbing down of Carly Fiorina”). Meg Whitman said she would suspend AB 32 for a year, but even after she broke records by spending more than $160 million, Jerry Brown beat her handily with a campaign built around an aggressive clean energy policy.

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