Proposal to suspend AB 32 likely headed for ballot

May 3, 2010

A political group with backing from big oil interests will begin submitting signatures today that are expected to qualify a measure for the November ballot to suspend implementation of AB 32, California’s landmark measure to fight global warming by limiting the emission of greenhouse gases.

The ballot measure was carefully written to avoid calling for an all-out repeal of AB 32 while still accomplishing essentially that. It would suspend the measure until California’s unemployment rate declined to 5.5 percent for four consecutive quarters. That’s not likely to happen for years and has been the case only rarely in the past decade.

AB 32 calls for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. It will require industry to retool their operations, especially big greenhouse gas producers such as oil refineries, utilities and cement plants. Business groups contend it will damage the economy. And while state officials concede that the regulations could save less than 1/2 of 1 percent off the state’s GNP, they claim it will actually create thousands of jobs.

The initiative to suspend the law is being backed by oil giants Valero and Tesoro, among others.

The measure will likely attract national and even international attention because of the focus on California and its global warming law, which Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has considered one of his greatest accomplishments. Industry is likely prepared to spend millions to push the ballot measure. It’s not clear who on the other side will pony up to defend AB 32. So far a non-profit foundation that supports clean energy has been the major donor to the campaign against the ballot measure. But there are few major financial interests with a big enough stake in the law to pour in the kind of money that would be needed to match the resources of the petroleum industry.

Californians have shown strong support for AB 32 in the past, and that support has crossed party lines. Californians also seem to like the idea that their state has a reputation as an environmental leader. But with the economy struggling, a proposal to suspend AB 32 until joblessness declines will have plenty of appeal. It is going to be a very interesting campaign.

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