Oil Industry Hijacks Anti-AB 32 Initiative

By Published On: March 5, 2010

A ballot measure to suspend the state’s drive to cut greenhouse gas emissions was hijacked by a committee whose spokesperson has a long history of working for the Western States Petroleum Association and oil company interests. The initiative was originally sponsored by some Republican lawmakers. The new committee sponsoring the measure is calling itself the California Jobs Initiative, spokesperson Anita Mangels said. She maintained it is set to file a statement detailing its contributions and financial backers with the Secretary of State’s office in the future, as required under state law. No details are currently available from the state office. Mangels said the committee is still in the process of lining up backers for the measure. The initiative would delay any state action to carry out California’s landmark climate change law, AB 32, until the state’s unemployment rate falls to 5.5 percent. The California Jobs Initiative took over the measure from the People’s Advocate, Mangels explained, the original organizational sponsor, along with Assemblymember Dan Logue (R-Marysville) and Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA). Logue moved to qualify the measure for the ballot after the Legislature rejected a bill he sponsored to delay state action on climate change. The change in initiative sponsorship appears abrupt. “I’ve been thrown under the bus,” Tom Costa, People’s Advocate chief executive officer, told Circuit March 4, of his removal from the ballot measure’s helm. Oil companies Tesoro and Valero and other interests are spending “much more than $2 million” noted in a recent news report, said Costa, to underwrite the overthrow of AB 32. The Los Angeles Times reported those companies as backing the initiative at the $2 million level. The companies did not return phone calls. In response to their reported money, however, Californians for Clean Energy & Jobs shot back with a statement saying that if the measure qualifies and passes it would threaten 100,000 jobs in the state’s “clean tech industry.” The group is a coalition of environmental organizations and companies dedicated to fighting the ballot measure. Meanwhile, Mangels said that paid signature gatherers already have begun collecting signatures to qualify the measure for the November 2 ballot. They need 434,000 signatures by July 19, according to the California Secretary of State’s office. Mangels is associated with the Bay Area public affairs consulting company Woodward & McDowell. That public relations firm has represented most of the big oil companies in the state on issues through the years, including BP, ChevronTexaco, Conoco, ExxonMobil, Occidental Petroleum, Shell, Unocal, and Valero, as well as the Western States Petroleum Association. The consulting firm also has represented Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison, as well as trucking, home building, chemical, and food processing companies, virtually all of which would be regulated under California’s global warming strategy. Woodward & McDowell also handles a group of major industries in California called the AB 32 Implementation Group, according to a report by the Center for Media and Democracy issued earlier this year. The AB 32 Implementation Group is headed by the California Manufacturers & Technology Association and the California Chamber of Commerce. That group aims at “cost-effective” AB 32 execution. In the 1990s, Mangels fought on behalf of oil companies to roll back the state’s zero emissions vehicle mandate requiring production of electric cars. Another associate of the firm, Scott MacDonald, spearheaded an oil industry drive to block Los Angeles area air pollution regulators from phasing out diesel buses and trucks in public vehicle fleets. Diesel soot is a designated carcinogen. Mangels acknowledged she has worked for the petroleum industry in the past, as well as on many other issues, but said that it has no relationship to the issue at hand, AB 32. “We’re focused on adjusting the timetable [of AB 32] to make sure it does not cause economic damage,” she maintained. Ann Notthoff, Natural Resources Defense Council advocacy director, called the oil industry’s apparent takeover of the ballot initiative “deceptive” and said that if the measure passes it would kill jobs and “chill billions of dollars of investment.” The development on the AB 32 measure comes as enthusiasm for action on climate change is sagging in public opinion polls amid a deep and persistent recession. It also comes as the California Air Resources Board has slowed its pace on developing a carbon cap-and-trade program, which is to serve as a major leg of its AB 32 strategy (Circuit. Feb. 26, 2010).

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