By Chris Goodnow, Tory
I don’t know about you, but when I turn on the lights at my house in the quaint town of Pleasanton in the East Bay area of San Francisco, I always wonder aloud, “Why the heck is this energy so clean?” I can literally feel the wind turbines caress my face with a cool breeze as the warm solar energy soothes my skin. I am slowly lulled into a green daze as I envision myself prancing in a field of California poppies, until suddenly I wake up and scream, “This can’t be happening; I’m a cold-blooded conservative! Drill baby, drill! Burn that carbon! Show me some smokestacks!” I continue to rattle off these shallow exclamations with which conservatives are oftentimes associated, yearning for the air quality of yore in which coal was king and black smoke was chic. So, rather than just taking a vacation to Los Angeles, I instead draft Proposition 23, a “dirty energy” initiative that will eliminate all state environmental standards, allowing me to inhale the hazy cloud of carbon emissions that I have always wanted.
Alright, stop. I seemed to have gotten carried away. While Proposition 23 is related to the environment, that is about the only similarity between the actual initiative and the fairy tale above. Opponents to the proposition have had a grand ol’ time labeling it as the “Dirty Energy Initiative”, and they have mounted a successful smear campaign against it throughout the state. Their hyperbolized arguments like the one above have infected a great number of Californians with their Chicken Little Syndrome, currently leading in the polls by 11% to shoot down the initiative. Unfortunately, the proposition’s lack of success is not due to lack of merit, but to a thick haze of misinformation that has obscured the initiative’s purpose, content, and objectives. So, let’s get the record straight.
First, Proposition 23 is a ballot initiative with a very simple goal: momentarily suspend Assembly Bill 32 (AB 32) until unemployment in California is at or below 5.5%, which is 0.7% higher than when the bill was signed into law. But, what is AB 32, you ask? Passed in 2006, it is a current cap-and-trade law in the state of California mandating that the state reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, a goal that is noble in purpose but poorly planned and timed given the state of the economy. The bill, which is a set of strict regulations and environmental mandates that will be in full swing by 2012, would raise electricity costs 60% and natural gas costs up to 57% according to the California Air Resources Board (CARB).
Unfortunately, California did not take hunting lessons from Joe Manchin, so they unwittingly passed this cap-and-trade legislation that in principle is poorly conceived and strikingly detrimental. Firstly, AB 32 forces energy companies to search for new, renewable energy sources that are not yet abundant or cost-effective, forcing them to pass price increases to the consumers. Furthermore, rather than allowing the free market to encourage companies to move towards renewable resources as they become cheaper and more effective, cap-and-trade legislation simply allows companies to buy carbon credits to offset their emissions. This indulgence-based system removes the incentive to fundamentally change manufacturing processes and instead encourages businesses to smother their emissions with a thicker haze of money. This phenomenon is not just theory, but an already proven fact. In Europe, where the European Union has strict cap-and-trade regulations based in the Kyoto Protocol of 1997, carbon emissions rose at a faster rate than in the United States during the beginning of the millennium, a direct testament to countries reporting carbon credit purchases as emissions decreases. Quite frankly, a planned and centralized cap-and-trade mechanism, while politically aesthetic to many, simply hampers innovation and energy improvements that would be much more effectively implemented by an unregulated free market system.
However, for those of you who support AB 32 on principle, delaying the legislation by passing Proposition 23 is still the most logical solution. Implementing AB 32 over the next couple of years would plague Californians with unbearable energy costs at a time when so many of them are suffering severe economic hardship. The results could be potentially devastating to homeowners, employers, and employees who quite frankly have it hard enough already. Proposition 23 simply sets a reasonable indicator of economic stability, unemployment, as a benchmark before the state government can begin raising energy prices again.
Not surprisingly, opponents to the initiative have been crying wolf since the day Proposition 23 was put on the ballot, claiming that it would end environmental regulations and allow large oil companies to crucify the state on their cross of carbon. Luckily, Californians need not worry that Jed Clampett is heading back to Beverley Hills to stir things up, because Proposition 23 only addresses the momentary suspension of AB 32, leaving all other environmental regulations in tact. In fact, the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) wrote in a letter to Attorney General Jerry Brown that “the majority of activities related to addressing climate change and reducing GHG emissions would probably not be suspended by this measure [Proposition 23]”. So there is nothing to worry about, California will still lead the universe in all things green. Therefore, it is first and foremost evident that the purpose of this initiative is not to send the state back to 1909, but to alleviate the economic pressures on Californians until the recession is actually over.
Unfortunately, allowing AB 32 to remain the law of the land while California is suffering record-high unemployment would not only raise prices on the consumer level, but would also cost California even more jobs as companies would flee the state due to regulations that would make business unprofitable. According to a study by the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education (Yes, I am citing Berkley), “three million jobs could be impacted by new global warming regulations”, an additional 8% of California’s population on top of the 12% that is already unemployed. However, opponents to Proposition 23 claim that the new “green jobs” created by AB 32 would outweigh the ones lost by the crushing legislation. In reality, this assertion crumbles under the truth, for the LAO released a report stating, “CARB has now reduced its estimate of green jobs created by AB 32 to about 10,000 jobs”, which is obviously significantly lower than the number of jobs that would be implicated by AB 32.
In addition to the many benefits and necessary economic relief that Proposition 23 would provide to Californians, the state government, which is in the throes of a financial meltdown, would also benefit from this initiative. According to the LAO, “the measure would likely have a positive impact on state and local government revenues” due to increased economic output resulting from lower energy prices. Even the elimination of administrative fees necessary to regulate AB 32 would save the state tens of millions of dollars. And while the folks in Sacramento play with its citizens’ money like an angry toddler with an ear infection plays with his food, every single necessary budget cut such as this, whether large or small, must be implemented if California will ever dig itself out of its abyss of debt.
Put simply, Californians cannot handle AB 32 right now, and they need Proposition 23 to help ward off suffocating energy price increases until the economy is stable and they are back to work. Rather than focusing on green this and green that, Sacramento must begin to realize that bureaucratic and legislative goals must be put on hold while the state is in crisis, that the needs of its citizens must be upheld above the agendas of its legislators. Proposition 23 is not a death sentence to the environment, nor to AB 32, but simply a measure put forth by the people of California asking for some time to recover before prices go up again. I would venture to say that is not too much to ask.