By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now
When the Prop 23 proponents launched their grenade to blow up California’s greenhouse gas emissions targets, they likely hoped that the measure would sail to victory during the traditional shakeup of midterm elections.
But according to a poll released Monday, it ain’t happening.
A new Los Angeles Times/ USC poll of likely voters shows that most do not agree with Prop 23, which would roll back California's progressive carbon emissions standards. The poll found 48 percent opposed Prop 23, compared to 32 percent who were in favor. The remainder were undecided.
Steve Maviglio, a spokesperson for the No On 23 campaign, did not sound surprised that the measure is failing to gain traction.
"I attribute it to voters seeing through the deceptiveness of the ‘yes’ (on 23) campaign," Maviglio said.
Voters are realizing that Prop 23 is nothing more than an attempt by oil companies to prolong the public's dependence on oil and gasoline, he said. "I think voters are following the money, 98 percent of it is coming from the oil industry, and 90 percent of it is from out of state, and they realize it's basically to benefit two Texas oil companies and will undermine California jobs."
According to finance reports, the primary backers of Prop 23 are two Texas oil companies, Valero Energy Corporation and Tessoro Corp.. The two have contributed more than $5.5 million of the $9 million publicly spent on the campaign. Koch Industries Inc., a private oil and gas firm (with interests in fertilizer and chemical businesses) based in Wichita, Kansas, has contributed $1 million. Koch is run by the Koch brothers who have backed climate change denial groups.
Prop 23, if passed, would turn back California’s law that requires the state to reduce its carbon emissions by 30 percent compared with 1990 levels by 2020. That law, AB32, was signed 2006 by Gov. Arnold Swartzenegger, and will be phased in through a variety of market mechanisms, state requirements and education programs. Prop 23 would suspend AB32 until unemployment reaches 5.5 percent, effectively killing the law.
All together, oil interests have supplied $8.8 million in campaign contributions to support Prop 23 — or put another way, to defeat AB32 after the fact, according to the No Campaign's records.
Some of the money aimed at California’s clean air plan has murky origins, like the $498,000 contribution from the conservative Adam Smith Foundation in Missouri. The foundation lists its goals as "working to restrain activist judges" and "to reduce State and Local Government spending," but has no perceivable business or duties in California.
A piece on the Adam Smith website explains that the foundation opposes California's "strict environmental regulations" because they would cost jobs and raise prices on consumer goods, and because "if these regulations gain a foothold in California, it is only a matter of time before they extend across our nation.”
While that viewpoint might explain why a Missouri group is so interested in what happens in California, it does not accurately portray what would happen in California as clean energy replaces fossil fuels, said Maviglio.
The oil companies are putting forth "junk economics," he said, that set up a false trade-off between jobs and moving off fossil fuels.
"Voters are looking around and seeing that the only bright spot (in the economy) is clean energy jobs," he said, citing as one example the federal approval this week for what will be the world's largest solar plant in Riverside County. The 1,000 Megawatt Blythe Solar Power Project, being built on 7,000 acres of public land, will create 1,066 construction jobs, and 295 permanent jobs.
To protect jobs such as those, and to help clean the air, the No on 23 campaign has collected a long list of supporters, from President Obama, who endorsed the group, to Bill Gates, who donated $700,000. The non-profit No on 23 group is backed by a coalition of dozens of public health, labor and clean energy groups.
Along with dusting up debate about energy sources and jobs, the battle over Prop 23 has set up a side shootout between Texas and California. With so much of the oil money behind the ballot initiative coming from Texas via the Tesoro and Valero campaign contributions, the Prop 23 effort comes off to some Californians like as an assault from the Lone Star state.
This has led to the mocking retort "Don't Mess with California", a battle cry heard on YouTube videos and at Prop 23 protests set up at Valero gas stations.
Meanwhile, the No on 23 campaign continues to try to to unfurl the Prop 23 premise that curbing greenhouse gas emissions will place an unfair burden on consumers, raising fuel and even food costs (as trucking costs rise).
"It depends on how you measure costs," responds Maviglio. "I don't measure fossil fuels in just how much it costs to produce them. There's the cost of health care. The cost of air pollution. Those costs add up…If you add up all those costs, clean energy is extremely competitive."
No on 23 counters that Proposition 23 would strip California of billions in investment in the new economy, and put 500,000 jobs in the clean energy and clean tech sectors at risk.
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