Last night, the two major Republican candidates for governor, Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner and ex-eBay executive Meg Whitman, appeared at their first debate together, hosted by The New Majority, a Republican organization.

The major issues they discussed were tax cuts (which both said were intended to stimulate the economy), California’s budget deficit, education, immigration, and yes, climate change. Both wove the theme of Californians being over-taxed and over-regulated, and their shared position that California is a difficult place to do business and that jobs are leaving the state, into their answers to most questions.

The debate moderator, Conan Nolan, led into the one and only environmentally-themed question of the evening by saying that prior to the debate, he had received a lot of emails from Californians about AB 32, the state’s landmark global warming law. The law, he says, gives considerable authority to the Air Resources Board and is designed to remove carbon emissions, and help with global warming and pollution in general.

Nolan mentioned getting an email from an equipment manager who was critical of the law, but then referred to a recent San Jose Mercury News editorial (“Repealing AB 32 would be a disaster for California”) and said there was a lot of support for the law in Silicon Valley; companies like Apple, Google, eBay, all “believe it puts the state in the front burner for high tech green jobs” that are expected to be created in part because of the law’s implementation.

Poizner replied first, saying: “It’s called ‘global warming,’ not ‘state warming.’ The idea that we can put some kind of draconian set of regulations that just apply here in California; that doesn’t help the environment and it destroys the economy. We are not an economic island, and we are not an environmental island.” He went on to talk about the permitting process to start a manufacturing facility, for example, and said “you can’t, not very easily” and called California’s “regulatory system” including AB 32, and other rules “a “killer.” He talked about creating a position called “chief innovation officer” that would help “streamline” permitting and a dedicated dispute resolution system to help with environmental disputes.

Whitman also responded by saying she believed AB 32 would harm the economy: “I was the first gubernatorial candidates to call for a one-year moratorium on the implementation of AB 32.” She believes it would “drive more businesses out of California” because it “puts California at a competitive disadvantage… Everyone thinks of Oregon as a pretty green state; Oregon has nothing like AB 32. I understand why we want to own the green innovation in California” but the law “is not going to create more green jobs in California; the way we are going to have to do that is compete for those jobs with tax incentives and other ways to make sure we don’t lose that industry.”

Fact: Despite the global recession, California’s green tech entrepreneurs are bucking the trend. One quarter of 2008 brought in 21 major clean tech investments that added up to a record $794 million. Implementing the goals set in AB 32 will create a wide variety of jobs in many sectors: information technology, building and transportation infrastructure construction, environmental engineering, transportation operations and logistics, manufacturing, waste management, and water purification and conservation. Green jobs are already growing 2.5 times as fast as traditional jobs; implementing AB 32 without delay will significantly expand that figure.

Whitman then went on to decry regulations in general: “Regulations are strangling businesses of all sizes.” She said she wants to put a one-year moratorium on all new regulations. “Let’s stop the madness,” she said. “We can have high environmental standards, but we have got to streamline regulations so it’s possible to do business in California.” (She later added that as head of eBay, she had “been on the receiving end of burdensome regulations” in California.)

Poizner responded by talking about the unemployment rate in California. He said it started to change when AB 32 was passed several years ago, and that it wasn’t a coincidence. “AB 32 is draconian,” he said. “In order to meet all the CO2 reduction requirements, we’d have to get rid of every car on the road.”

He tried to demonstrate a harder line on the law than Whitman: “I don’t think a one-year suspension is enough… I support the ballot initiative being circulated right now that would suspend AB 32 until the unemployment rate is at 5.5% for four quarters in a row.” The initiative he referred to was recently revealed to be funded by two out-of-state oil companies with clear economic interests in killing clean energy innovations in California.

Fact: Texas-based refinery giants Valero and Tesoro have pledged as much as $2 million to fund signature gathering for the initiative to suspend our landmark global warming law. Taken together, the four California refineries operated by these two companies emit an astounding percentage of the pollution responsible for global warming in the state — 16.7% of all reported emissions from within California.

Whitman reiterated her support for the one-year moratorium on AB 32. “Let’s understand what our alternatives are, because we do want to own the green tech industry in California. My view is, as AB 32 is currently configured, this is the wrong thing to do… But let’s take a year, let’s understand the job losses that will occur, and let’s think of an alternative… Before we make a draconian decision here, let’s make sure we know what we’re going to next.”

The bottom line: Both GOP candidates want to suspend or delay the law, with Poizner taking the additional step of endorsing an initiative that 1) would essentially kill the law (since the required sustained 5.5% unemployment rate is not expected to occur for many years) and 2) is funded by Texas Big Oil.

Neither candidate offered any evidence that the law, which has yet to be implemented, is in any way linked to a worsening job climate and/or the unemployment rate in California. Neither candidate responded to the assertion that delaying AB 32 would be the real job-killer, and neither appeared to have heard of the numerous studies that demonstrate the clean energy sector, spurred in part by the passage of AB 32, is the one sector of the economy that’s continuing to grow in California. (In fact, as I write this post, about 6,000 people are attending the “Green California” summit and exposition in Sacramento, where our state’s clean energy innovation is on full display).

With three months left until the primary, there’s still time to adjust their positions, but it appears less and less likely that either candidate will do an about-face and throw their support behind a law that every poll shows is supported by large majorities of California voters.

Posted on March 16, 2010


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