JUICE: Dear Arnie

By Published On: May 21, 2010

Dear Arnie: With June’s primary almost at hand, Californians are turning to who will be their next governor while, you, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, begin to burnish your legacy. How you do this in the coming months looms large for the state’s energy industry, economy, and future generations. Face it Arnie, your chief positive legacy is AB 32. It’s the law that put your mug on the cover of Time magazine. When you beat Gray Davis in a recall election amid a budget crisis following an energy nightmare, you promised to balance the state’s books and drive the special interests from the halls of Sacramento. No help there. Then you pledged to streamline and reorganize state government, including the state’s energy agencies. That got about as far as your hydrogen highway, which you used to position yourself as an environmental champion by unveiling a hydrogen Hummer at a 2003 campaign rally near Santa Barbara. Seven years later there’s about as much chance that anybody but you will be driving a hydrogen fuel cell-powered car as there was back then. So there’s little wonder that your rating among Californians is now lower than it was for Gray Davis when he was recalled. Sure, you can still pack the house, but amid the throngs a recent Field Poll shows that only 23 percent of Californians approve of how you’re doing your job. Yet, when all else fails, you still have some “street cred” on AB 32, renewable energy, and energy efficiency. They weren’t your brainchild, but you didn’t veto them either and you’ve shown leadership in implementing them. Take AB 32. Your administration’s already made substantial headway under the law by adopting numerous rules--from automotive standards for greenhouse gases and the nation’s first low carbon fuel standard--to rules to curtail emissions of low volume, but high potential global warming gases, like sulfur hexafluoride used by the power industry in grid equipment. You and your appointees have consistently pushed the envelope on energy efficiency, with ambitious goals for utility programs and mandatory energy savings standards for a variety of devices, including most recently TVs. On top of that you signed legislation to phase out California’s dependence on out-of-state coal power and pushed for ever higher levels of renewable energy, including through the state’s million solar roofs program. Last month, Californians flooded the program with a record number of incentive applications for 151 MW. Arnie, compared to most other states and a do-nothing Democratic Congress, you’ve got a record to crow about on global warming. That’s why you can be the heavyweight champ in salvaging AB 32 amid a free-for-all fight in your Republican party to upend the landmark statute. On the eve of the June primary, AB 32 faces two Republican gubernatorial candidates who have pledged to stop any action on global warming, plus the likelihood a ballot measure to suspend the law will qualify for the November election. Your party is seeking to take advantage of the economically hard-pressed electorate. Those distressed constituents are increasingly skeptical of the law. This puts you in a tough spot in the months ahead. First, if you’re a loyal Republican, you undoubtedly will endorse the presumptive Republican candidate for governor, Meg Whitman--even though she’s called for at least a one-year moratorium on AB 32. Meanwhile, you adamantly oppose the ballot measure. That initiative aims to suspend the law until the state unemployment rate falls from12.6 percent today to 5.5 percent, which some economists say is unlikely to happen for years, if ever. So what should you do on AB 32 with the remainder of your term? Do you press the metal on your Hummer to rush through a 33 percent renewable energy standard without legislative authorization? Do you burn up the highway to adopt a carbon cap-and-trade market before the November election? No Arnie. Hit the campaign road for AB 32 and leave key decisions about how to administer the law to the next governor. You excel at campaigning more than at governing. Show off your hydrogen Hummer and the environmental entrepreneurs who are creating green jobs. Share a few cigars and jabber with what’s left of newspaper editorial boards about why the state must get off oil and fossil fuels like coal--which recent events reveal come at a high cost to the environment and human well being. Just like when you stood on the beach with your hydrogen Hummer, you still can create excitement among California voters about maintaining the state’s climate change law as a path to a better future. When you’re not campaigning, tell your appointees at the California Air Resources Board to slow down in adopting a 33 percent renewable energy standard. It will provide time for legislative action to make sure Californians get some green jobs out of the requirement instead of mostly out-of-state folks. Also, make sure that they don’t embrace any grand carbon cap-and-trade program. Instead, have the Air Board continue to adopt direct regulations that target specific sources of greenhouse gases. Perhaps that’s what you’re doing, given the slowdown at the Air Board on cap-and-trade (see story in Climate Section). But you should show us you’re still the boss and come right out and announce you’re ordering the agency to leave decisions on cap-and-trade to the next governor. First, this will deny AB 32’s vocal opponents a lightning rod in their campaign to suspend the law. Second, it will allow Whitman to declare victory on AB 32 before the election making it unnecessary for her to declare a moratorium on the law should she win. Meanwhile, you should privately meet with her to convince her of the value of AB 32 in positioning California’s economy for the future. My guess is you would be successful, since she is for renewable energy and wants to grow the state’s economy. Finally, do what you do best: terminate the anti-AB 32 ballot measure and fully burnish your legacy as governor. Sincerely,

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