Energy industry money is fueling a campaign currently underway in California to prevent the state’s landmark AB32 emissions standards from taking effect as planned. With the most aggressive pieces of the legislation scheduled to kick in in 2012, a new bill called the California Jobs Initiative would block their implementation until the state unemployment rate drops below 5.5 percent—an annual level seen only six times in the last 30 years.
Opponents of AB32 say that the stricter emissions standards are coming at the wrong time, with the unemployment rate currently hovering above 12 percent. But many question the true motives of the movement behind the initiative, which receives most of its funding from oil companies. According to EE News, $500,000 of the money spent gathering signatures to get the so-called “Jobs Initiative” on the ballot comes from Valero Energy Corporation, with at least an additional $350,000 coming from other major energy firms—most of which are based out of state.
Opponents of the new emissions standards point to a letter written by California Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor, who cited flaws in the state’s calculations when it predicted that AB32 would create 120,000 jobs statewide. Taylor goes on to forecast that the law will result in “near term job losses,” but makes no specific predictions or calculations about its specific economic impact.
Also known as the Global Warming Solutions Act, AB32 was signed into law by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger back in 2006, with the goal of reducing California’s greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. In the past, California’s aggressive environmental standards may have acted as catalysts for stricter national standards—the best example being 2007’s Corporate Average Fuel Economy overhaul, which followed a lengthy court battle over similar increases in the Golden State. Fearing that they would have to produce a separate line of cars for the California market, carmakers eventually got on board for a nationwide increase in fuel economy standards.
The energy industry may anticipate a similar impact from AB32, which precedes a much-heralded effort by congressional Democrats to pass a national cap-and-trade bill in Washington. If opponents are successful in blocking the standards at the ballot box in November, it would likely increase pressure on national lawmakers to abandon cap-and-trade indefinitely—or at least until the economy recovers.