In a round rebuke of energy interests who had tried to block California’s landmark AB 32 emissions law from taking effect next year, voters defeated Proposition 23 at the polls yesterday by a count of 61.4 percent to 38.6 percent. The nearly 23-point margin was the most one-sided result among the state’s nine ballot referendums this year, showing that while Californians may be divided about marijuana legalization, there is broad bipartisan support among voters and politicians alike for the most comprehensive emissions reduction measures the country has ever seen.
The list of financial contributors to the Yes on 23 campaign included an array of wealthy out-of-state oil companies, ranging from Valero to Koch Industries. Those interests had hoped to capitalize on concerns over unemployment and convince voters that AB 32’s cap and trade measures would cost the state jobs and increase prices for consumers on everything from food to gasoline.
In addition to stopping the nation’s largest economy from putting a cap on greenhouse gas emissions that would yield a 25 percent reduction in those pollutants over the next ten years, anti-environmentalist interests aimed to use Prop 23 to send a message to lawmakers all over the country that even in one of the nation’s greenest states, voters do not support carbon-cutting legislation during tough economic times.
But in defeating the referendum by such a wide margin, California voters ended up sending the opposite message, providing hope for the long-term prospects of cap and trade in the United States—if not at the federal level, then regionally.
But Is it a Win for Green Cars?
While studies are split on just how much California’s participation in the Western Climate Initiative cap and trade system will affect fuel prices in the coming years, there is a near-consensus that AB 32 will lead to at least some increase in the cost of gasoline. Some analysts put that number as low as 10 cents per gallon, while others project a dollar-plus increase over the course of next two decades.
Regardless of what the real number is, any increase in the price of gasoline provides additional incentive for drivers to opt for more fuel-efficient vehicles. Coupled with California’s numerous other programs aimed at boosting green car sales—ranging from a $5,000 tax credit toward the purchase of an electric vehicle, to the Zero Emissions Vehicle mandates placed on automakers—yesterday’s victory for AB 32 is expected to have at least some positive impact on the market for fuel-efficient vehicles in the state.
And just because consumers may be nudged into buying their new hybrid, plug-in, or efficient ICE by higher gas prices, doesn’t mean that they won’t save money in the long run. A study by economists from three environmental groups found that AB 32 will make California less susceptible to future oil spikes like the one that saw gas prices in the state jump to an average of nearly $4.60 per gallon in 2008.