Will California Voters Suspend AB32 in November ballot?

California will hold a referendum on global warming on its November 2010 ballot—and one on whether to legalize pot for personal use.  Far Out, man!—as Cheech and Chong might say!

California Secretary of State certified the proposition to suspend the California Global Warming Solutions Act as qualified for the November General Election ballot with more than the required 433,971 signatures—she also certified a ballot measure to legalize pot.

The November general election in California is shaping up to be a circus of ballot propositions which will guarantee a huge turnout.  This is probably good news for the Democrats and thus the environmental crowd—and it looks like they will need it.

There is something for everyone to love or hate on this ballot. Summary of the measures certified can be found on the Secretary of State’s website:[1]

Suspends State laws requiring reduced greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming, until California’s unemployment rate drops to 5.5 percent or less for four consecutive quarters. Requires State to abandon implementation of comprehensive greenhouse-gas-reduction program that includes increased renewable energy and cleaner fuel requirements, and mandatory emission reporting and fee requirements for major polluters such as power plants and oil refineries, until suspension is lifted. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local government: Potential positive, short-term impacts on state and local government revenues from the suspension of regulatory activity, with uncertain longer-run impacts. Potential foregone state revenues from the auctioning of emission allowances by state government, by suspending the future implementation of cap-and-trade regulations. (09-0104.) (Full Text)

The AB32 measure is a lightning rod not only because it seeks to “suspend” AB32 until unemployment in California falls below 5.5% for four consecutive quarters. The Environmental Defense Fund says this is a condition that has only happened three times in the last 35 years.[2] The proposition is clearly a ruse to get rid of the California Global Warming Solutions Act while public sentiment over the economy is at its peak without risking losing at the polls by attempting an outright repeal.

This measure is one of those “designer ballot measures” popular in California politics.  This one is funded almost entirely by oil refiners Valero and Tesoro who fear the Act will drive up their costs in an industry category that already struggles to survive.  But Valero and Tesoro didn’t go for straight repeal they waffled and weaseled into this ruse to suspend the law until the economy is better.

The measure is labeled a “California Jobs Initiative” building upon the admission that some impacts of the legislation will cost California jobs.  Similar designer ballot measures went down to defeat in the June California primary when PG&E sponsored a measure to limit public power by requiring a 2/3 vote for cities to use it.  Mercury Insurance sponsored a measure alleging to allow motorists to take their insurance discounts with them when they switch carriers—instead it allowed carriers to dramatically raise insurance rates to anyone who missed a payment and allowed their coverage to lapse.

Global Warming Referendum

The voters in California are wise to these designer ballot stunts and generally vote no to those they see as unfair, but there is genuine concern that AB32 goes too far, costs too much and is driven more by politicians than by good science or common sense.

The challenge for the proponents on AB32 is this truly is a referendum on the public’s acceptance of the global warming solutions the politicians and environmental advocates have said are essential for the future.  The risk for environmental advocates is they must make their case that the costs and risks of taking the wide ranging actions proposed in AB32 are necessary, reasonable and prudent. While California voters may have a bias for environmental protection—they have a bias against overreaching politicians and this year is a “kick the bums out” year of revenge on the political class.

And then there is the public sentiment about rising costs.  A recent Rasmussen national poll found that 52% of Americans surveyed were NOT willing to pay more for clean energy.[3]

What will California voters do?

[1] http://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/ballot-measures/qualified-ballot-measures.htm

[2] http://blogs.edf.org/californiadream/

[3] http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/current_events/environment_energy/52_not_willing_to_pay_more_for_clean_energy