If Proposition 32 Passes: A Not-So-Green Golden State

SHAREEmail to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twittershare on Tumblr
September 18, 2012 in Environment, Labor & Economy, Politics & Government

How different would California look with Proposition 32′s passage? To imagine, it’s not necessary to focus on a Golden State without the legacy of its unions, but rather to think of a California in which only the rich and powerful have a say in Sacramento and in the polling booth.

“It will have a devastating effect,” says John Logan, director of Labor Studies at San Francisco State University, of Prop. 32’s impact. “California would be transformed as a state.”

On environmental issues alone, Prop. 32 stands to roll back decades of progress in making California a global leader in green policy-making.

“You don’t have to go very far back to find likely examples of how it would change California,” Logan says, adding that Prop. 32 would remove labor’s voice from nearly all political conversations.

That voice is not always confined to lobbying efforts in the state legislature. Often labor’s support of candidates filling executive posts can be decisive. An obvious example is the 2010 governor’s race. Jerry Brown’s opponent, former eBay CEO and billionaire Meg Whitman, spent more than $144 million of her personal fortune on her own campaign–$178 million in total, nearly five times Brown’s war chest. And yet Brown won, thanks to a massive grassroots effort led by labor. What would California look like had big business had the spending field all to itself in 2010?

Except for her stated adamant opposition to raising taxes on the wealthy, Meg Whitman was largely short on policy specifics during her campaign. In 2009, however, she told the San Diego Union-Tribune that her first act as governor would be to suspend AB 32 — California’s Global Warming Solutions Act, citing its financial impact on California industry.

A landmark environmental law, AB 32 mandates, among its other goals, that California return its emissions output to 1990 levels by 2020–a reduction of 25 percent. The effort to comply with the law has spurred significant attempts to enhance automobile fuel efficiency as well as to source renewable energy from across the state. These efforts have national, even international implications, as technology designed to meet California’s rigorous environmental standards is often marketed and sold around the world.

The global sweep of AB 32 has made it a top target for multinational oil and petrochemical interests. In 2010, Big Oil banded together to launch Proposition 23—a California ballot initiative to nullify AB 32. Among the donors to the pro-Prop. 23 effort were the billionaire Koch brothers—whose Koch Industries subsidiary, Flint Hills Resources, gave $1 million to overturn the law. Their efforts failed by nearly 25 percentage points at the polls.

On September 13 of this year, the Koch brothers, with no apparent sense of irony, donated $4 million to back Prop. 32—a bill that claims to “stop special interests.”

If Prop. 32 were to pass, repealing AB 32 would likely be at the top of the Koch brothers’ — and the rest of the oil/petrochemical industry’s — to-do list.

The mere fact that AB 32 exists at all is a stroke of luck for the state of California. Despite its reputation as the land of environmental progress, California has seen a host of potential landmark bills axe-murdered by big business in the past decade.

In 2006 then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a litany of environmental bills at the behest of business interests, including a law (AB 1012) requiring that 50 percent of the vehicles sold in California run on clean alternative fuels by 2020. A year later, the Governator followed up by vetoing a series of bills (Assembly Bills 35, 888 and 1058) to establish green building standards for state buildings, as well as commercial buildings and residential structures.

But perhaps no environmental reform effort stands to flame out under a Prop. 32 regime as conspicuously as the longstanding effort to clean up California’s filthy, air-polluted ports.

In 2008, SB 974, proposed by state Senator Alan Lowenthal, would have imposed a $30 fee per 20-foot shipping container at the ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach and Oakland. The fees would have added up to $300 million annually, half to be spent on air pollution controls and the other half for infrastructure upgrades to prevent port congestion.

Public health fallout from our dirty, crowded ports costs Californians $19 billion annually. Senate Bill 974 received the direct support of the 85,000-member Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 721 and made it through the California Assembly—only to be vetoed by Schwarzenegger in 2008 after none other than Sarah Palin lobbied the governor against the bill. She was joined by the California Chamber of Commerce, who called the measure a “job killer” and by a who’s who of cheap Chinese labor-dependent big business–from garment manufacturers like Abercrombie & Fitch, to big box retailers like Walmart. (A new version of the bill—SB 739—eventually passed last year.)

Big business already decides much of California’s environmental policy. If Prop. 32 were to enter the equation, it would only be a matter of years before California’s reputation as a green leader in the global environmental movement would be as torched as the coal in our power plants.

SHAREEmail to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twittershare on Tumblr
Matthew Fleischer
Matthew Fleischer is an award-winning investigative journalist and a former LA Weekly staff writer. He currently reports for Witness L.A.
Read more articles by Matthew Fleischer

By clicking and submitting a comment I acknowledge the Capital & Main Privacy Policy and agree to the Capital & Main Terms of Service. I understand that my comments are also being governed by Facebook's Terms of Use and Privacy Policies as applicable, which can be found here.

  • Phil Shigekuni

    I had to read this over three times to get it.

    Let us make sure the electorate does not have the same confusion I had:

    AB 32 vs Prop. 32. I don’t think it is a coincidence the numbers are the same.

    Let us make sure to spell out the difference between the two at the start of the discussion.

  • kencahu

    Remember Gray Davis. He, with union backing, created the California public pension bonanza that has almost bankrupted the state.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mitchmabee99 Mitch Mabee

    The rich and powerful that Matthew Fleischer speaks of with contempt is a group that has long been hated by liberals, they are known as the private sector. In Calif the private sector is so small that it really doesn’t matter. No politician even bothers to pander to them. Matthew Fleischer has the popular Calif opinion: If you belong to a PUBLIC union then you matter, if you don’t you shouldn’t be voting anyways.

    If you are an employee public or private, the democrats are your friends. They work hard to improve your benefits and your rights. Liberal hate private employers they always have. I should add, this is only true when observing the actions of liberals, this is not true when listening to them. Have you ever heard of democrats supporting a piece of legislature that is meant to help small private business? Of course not and you never will, the service unions would never allow it. And the caravans of private businesses that are continuously leaving Calif are not the kind of people environmentalist want to live next door to anyways. So good riddance.

    Poor Jay Leno and Betty White, every night you can still see their desperate commercials as they smile at the camera, wearing Hawaiian shirts and waves breaking on the shore behind them as Leno explains “Wow it sure is great to be here in Calif. everybody should relocate their family and business here, its nothing but fun. . . . . .If it was true, would we need the commercial?

    Liberals have a super majority in the senate. So private business is scared to death. Whats to protect them against liberal policies? The liberals have all the power and the results are obvious: Calif is ranked 49th in new business hospitality. What better proof could there be that liberals hate private business.

Scroll To Top