California's Proposition 23: A Cunning Effort to Kill Clean Energy


Photo credit: jiazi via Flickr/CC BY-SA

There's been a lot of talk lately around about Proposition 23 in California -- oil companies are dumping money into campaigns to support it, clean energy advocates are adamantly against it, and it's become a major focus of the election. Indeed, it can pretty safely be considered the biggest political battle supporters of clean energy and climate action now face. So here's a brief rundown on what the Prop actually does, and why it's bad news for California -- and the entire nation. Proposition 23 really does only one very specific, very simple thing: It freezes a law already passed by California legislation and signed by governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006, called Assembly Bill 32. AB 32 requires that the state reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, and imposes an effective, firm framework by which to do so.

This of course means that California's energy usage must get cleaner and greener -- which is why oil companies hated it. They hated it so much, in fact, that two of them, Valero and Tesoro, sponsored a ballot initiative called Proposition 23. And let's get back to that simple thing that Prop 23 does:

It freezes all provisions of AB 32 until California's unemployment rate drops below 5.5% for four consecutive quarters.

That's it. I will give the law this: It is cunning in its simplicity. Just reading the above sentence, you don't get the sense that it's that big of a deal, or even unreasonable at all. But consider that the described requisite for 'unfreezing' AB 32 -- four consecutive quarters of 5.5% unemployment -- has happened only 3 times in the last 30 years, and you get a sense for how devious the proposition is. Currently, unemployment in California hovers around a devastating 12%. The oil companies know that those rates won't drop to 5.5% in a long ol' time.

Besides being forged by out-of-state oil companies intent on protecting their self-interests, there are plenty of reasons that Californians should vote No on Prop 23: AB 32 has already done a lot to ramp up investment in clean energy in California, again positioning the state to be a leader in an important global industry. It is beginning to create and protect jobs in an important, competitive sector. It will reduce greenhouse gas emissions in California -- and more importantly, give the rest of the nation encouragement and a template by which to follow suit. It will indirectly reduce numerous other air pollutants by restricting carbon emissions, making California's air all around healthier.

If Prop 23 passes, all that goes out the window -- and in comes a higher profit margin for Texas-based oil companies. Which is why those companies are spending millions of dollars (over $5 million so far) on advertising and campaigns to support it. Furthermore, there's no real evidence that AB 32 has lost the state any jobs at all -- it simply seems to be a talking point held over from the campaigns against the national climate legislation.

California has long been a leader in the energy realm -- its energy efficiency standards are the best in the nation, and the state has saved billions of dollars and set a national precedent as a result. Defeating Prop 23 will keep California on the cutting edge, and will help the state go from leader in saving energy to the leader in creating it from clean sources.

Further reading: The LA Times comes out against Prop 23
More on Prop 23
Van Jones Takes on Prop 23 and Koch's Anti-Climate Campaign (Video ...
Oil Billionaires Fight Climate Legislation (Video News)

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