High Hopes Hummering [sic] on the Recall Highway

By Published On: October 3, 2003

I might be stripped of my reporter’s badge of cynicism for saying this, but I have to admit it: When I first read Arnold Schwarzenegger’s environmental policy paper released this past weekend, parts of it had me nodding. Solar PV panels blanketing half of all new houses built in California. Speeding up the state’s progress toward greater utility procurement of renewable power. Retrofitting commercial buildings with energy-efficient lights and equipment. Not only this, but he also unveiled a new “hydrogen highway” plan that would allow citizens to fuel up their cars with hydrogen gas and stamp out polluting vehicular emissions. Could it be that Arnold, whose urban assault tank Hummer chomps gasoline like its owner chews through Hollywood dialogue, has somehow seen the alternatively powered light? One of my <i>Energy Circuit</i> colleagues gently reminded me that such promises, made as they were during the current high tide of rhetoric in the campaign to recall Governor Gray Davis, are so much <i>producto de vaca</i>. “Arnold’s just trying to out-Camejo” the Green Party candidate of the same name?that is, vying to capture the votes of on-the-fence, disillusioned Democrats. Anyone who remembers George Herbert Walker Bush’s infamous “Read my lips” guarantee on not raising taxes knows that making campaign pledges is the political equivalent of printing your own money?inexpensive, and for good reason. But the machinery underlying Arnold’s promise-press is worth some investigative turns of the wrench. Looking through Schwarzenegger’s environmental policy points, you almost get the feeling that he sweated out the prose himself, evident in such literary exertions as “strengthening the grid [sic] reliability” and “Less than 10 percent of vehicles currently operating on California’s roads are contributing contribute [sic] close to 50 percent of the California’s [sic] mobile source air pollution.” Rather, it’s likely the errors came from somewhere else, as well as the ideas. According to <i>Los Angeles Times</i> reporter Miguel Bustillo, environmental lawyer Robert Kennedy, Jr.?cousin of Maria Shriver, Schwarzenegger’s wife?is advising Arnold on campaign strategy. So far, neither Kennedy nor Schwarzenegger has confirmed the former’s involvement with The Governator’s drive toward the Capitol. Having the assistance of the most storied political family in America won’t help Arnold cruise over every pothole. Environmental groups have already caught the scent of political gear-grinding in his hydrogen autopia. Late last week, the Sierra Club and the California League of Conservation Voters (CLCV) skewered Schwarzenegger’s outlook on state natural resources and air quality as standing in stark contrast to his “personal choices,” most notably his association with the Hummer. First, the four-ton behemoth gets about 10 to 11 miles per gallon and can usually be observed approaching or feeding from a gas station. Arnold is considering an overhaul that would convert his ride to hydrogen fuel, but at a cost of about $10,000, this is not a viable option for the legions of drivers routinely Hummering their way to the pump twice a week. Even if Hummer owners wake up tomorrow morning to find their outsized toys magically reconfigured by the hydrogen fairy, a change for the worse may already have been set in motion. “This is a man who is proud of single-handedly sending the auto industry down the path of worse fuel efficiency,” said Teresa Schilling, CLCV spokesperson. Second, the Sierra Club and the CLCV charge, the owner of Hummer manufacturer AM General is no friend to the environment. Ira Rennert and his Renco Group also own various mining operations, pollution from which is the subject of a pending suit by the US Environmental Protection Agency. This is the George W. Bush EPA, mind you, at best just an EA and clearly not adept with the P. Around the state Capitol, reaction to Arnold’s other energy measures met with anticipation and skepticism. One insider noted that the goal of greening 20 percent of all utility electricity purchases by 2010 rather than 2017 is already a stated objective of the “energy action plan” drafted by the state’s three power agencies. Another pointed out the ease of being pro-renewables since no candidate is really against them?and because no actual money is in play. Arnold’s camp has said the hydrogen fuel station plan would cost about $60 million and could be funded in part from private and federal pots. The solar PV, green building retrofit, and renewables portfolio initiatives have no such figures or incentive packages attached yet. This leaves aside the issue of convincing investor-owned utilities to follow along. For example, Schwarzenegger’s renewables portfolio proposition would further commit utilities to obtaining 33 percent of their electricity supplies from green sources by 2020. And whether hydrogen storage containers might want to explode upon impact by a wayward vehicle is another conversation altogether. The actor’s environmental platform appears to have further distanced Schwarzenegger from the strenuously conservative Senator Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks). Unlike McClintock, who wants to disband the state coastal commission, Arnold said he would keep the body intact. Schwarzenegger also said he would ask the California Air Resources Board to examine potential impacts that could result from recent changes in federal New Source Review emissions laws and would seek to ban all offshore oil drilling in state waters. GOP spokesperson Mike Wintemute did his best to tell me that the divergence of opinion separating Schwarzenegger and McClintock is healthy and would not necessarily split Republican votes in the October 7 recall election, but to his credit, what else could he be expected to say? Despite all the hydrogen hullabaloo, Arnold’s energy pitches might turn out to be more feasible than the blueprints of some of his competitors. McClintock launched a lawsuit last year aimed at completely nullifying the state’s energy contracts. He claims that state consultant Vikram Budhraja, who helped California negotiate its poorly regarded power pacts, received $100,000 from Southern California Edison, thus voiding the agreements under the state’s conflict-of-interest law. The Green Party’s Peter Camejo has called for the “massive” expansion of renewable generation and has blasted Governor Davis’s energy compacts as “the worst investment ever made in the history of humanity.” Camejo wants to use the influence of the state’s pension funds to vote out the boards of Calpine, El Paso, and Reliant Energy and then “rip up” California’s power contracts. Wednesday’s debate among the recall candidates appeared to confer little advantage to Arnold, though some pundits glowed over his ready-made showbiz one-liners and all but congratulated him for not falling on his cartoon-boned face. McClintock easily outclassed Schwarzenegger with an earnestness and acumen that’s been building throughout the senator’s campaign for governor, no doubt winning additional party support. Should McClintock stay in the race despite pressure for him to step aside and unite Republicans, Arnold is going to have to trot out more policy wares to dangle before voters still picking over California’s 135 gubernatorial candidates. As the GOP’s Wintemute explained with regard to attracting voters in California, “sometimes you need more than just Republicans.” Now <i>there’s</i> a campaign slogan.

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