5 Things You Need to Know About Prop 23 -- Big Oil's Shady Ploy to Thwart a Climate Change Measure


Temperatures may be cooling down as we head into November, but that doesn't change the fact that both NOAA and NASA have reported that 2010 so far has been the hottest year on record. A NASA report confirmed that "Global temperature continued to rise rapidly in the past decade" and "there has been no reduction in the global warming trend of 0.15-0.20°C per decade that began in the late 1970s." The world's top scientists have concluded we're running out of time to stave off the worst of the havoc that climate change is likely to bring, which means we better get to work, and fast. Unfortunately, there is a proposition on California's ballot that is intent on doing just the opposite. Here are five things you should know about Prop 23 before you vote.

1. What Is It?

First, the basics. Prop 23 would suspend AB 32, California's Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, a landmark piece of legislation passed by the California legislature and signed by Gov. Schwarzenegger. AB 32 is designed to help reduce global warming emissions and hold polluters accountable. It would require California to decrease global warming emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, beginning in 2012.

Prop 23 would put AB 32 on hold, which means the state wouldn't make any efforts to reduce global warming emissions (that also means big polluters wouldn't have to worry about cleaning up their acts), until the the unemployment rate dropped below 5.5 percent for four consecutive quarters. This basically means not any time remotely soon. The unemployment rate in the state is around 12 percent right now.

2. What Does the Environment Have to Do With Jobs?

The unemployment rate statewide is just over 12 percent and in some counties it is as high as 20 percent. The state has lost 34 percent of its manufacturing jobs in the last 10 years. The architects of Prop 23, also called the "California Jobs Initiative," believe that reducing global warming emissions and cutting pollution is somehow bad for the economy and bad for jobs.

Research suggests otherwise. Clean energy jobs are one of the few growing areas of the economy. Between 1995-2008, the number of clean energy businesses has grown 45 percent and the number of clean energy jobs has increased by 36 percent -- more than 10 times the average job growth in California. There are over 12,000 clean tech companies in California and 500,000 people work in the industry. The big money coming into the state is going to further develop clean technologies -- last year alone, California's green tech industry brought in $2.1 billion in investment capital.

Venture capitalist and clean energy investor Vinod Khosla said, "AB 32 created markets. Prop. 23 will kill the market and the single largest source of job growth in California in the last two years."

3. Who's Funding It?

So, if there is lots of money going into building a clean energy economy, that must be making the dirty energy companies, like Big Oil, pretty mad, right? Not surprisingly, that's who is behind the funding for Prop 23. The deep pockets responsible for Prop 23 are Texas oil giants Valero and Tesoro -- their refineries in California are among the state's top 10 biggest polluters. They're also getting help from the billionaire brothers of Koch Industries, who've also been busying pouring their loot into the Tea Party's efforts.

So far Valero has kicked in over $5 million to bolster Prop 23 and Tesoro has donated just over $2 million. Flint Hill Resources, a subsidiary of Koch Industries, has given a million. Other big donors include a half a million from Marathon Petroleum Company LLC and from the Adam Smith Foundation ("an advocacy organization committed to promoting conservative principles and individual liberties in Missouri and beyond"); $300,000 from Occidental Petroleum Corp.; $200,000 from Tower Energy Group; $150,000 from CVR Energy Inc.; and about $100,000 from Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assoc., the National Petrochemical & Refiners Assoc. and World Oil Corp. Beginning to see a trend?

The Yes on Prop 23 camp has raised $10,653,560 so far, with only 30 percent of it coming from in-state and the majority from large oil companies. But despite the big money donors, those in favor of sane environmental policy have given three times as much. No on Prop 23 supporters have pitched in $30,653,224 -- 70 percent of it from in-state donations.

4. Why It's Bad for the Environment

Over 97 percent of the world's scientists are warning of the imminent dangers from our addiction to burning dirty fossil fuels. These global warming emissions we are supposed to be cutting have an effect not just on our changing climate, but on the health of our environment. More global warming emissions from burning coal, gas and oil also means more air and water pollution.

"If we allow Prop 23 to succeed, big oil refineries in the state could continue to spew greenhouse gases without strict regulation," wrote Jorge Madrid on Climate Progress. "Even worse, a victory for big oil in California could mean certain death for greenhouse gas regulation for the rest of the nation."

With little substantial action at the national and international level on halting climate change, a move by California to hold polluters accountable would set an important precedent. Not only that -- but the effects of a changing climate are already causing problems for California, which spends $800 million on wildfires each year. "Extreme heat dries up grassland and brush on California hillsides, making them a spark away from disaster. If average statewide temperatures rise to the medium warming range (5.5 to 8°F), the risk of large wildfires in California is expected to increase about 20 percent by mid-century and 50 percent by the end of the century," Madrid writes. "The initiative would suspend the crucial price signal and market for carbon pollution that makes clean energy more profitable than dirty energy, and it would also threaten 72 other planned and existing state policies that are linked to it along with billions of dollars in direct investment in clean tech by the state and local governments."

Not only will Prop 23 point us in the direction of more dirty energy but it will hurt our chances at creating, clean and renewable sources of energy -- especially from solar power, which the state has lots of.

5. Why It's Bad for Communities

In addition to being bad for jobs and for the environment, dirty energy is well, just plain dirty. And that means people have to breathe more unhealthy air. Air pollution in California results in thousands of premature deaths and asthma attacks each year. Hundreds also die annually from heat-related deaths, with the most vulnerable being the poor and the elderly. It's telling that both California's American Lung Association and AARP are opposed to Prop 23.

"Proposition 23 is nothing more than a power move by fossil fools to prevent California from leading the nation into an environmental awakening decades in the making," Scott Thill summed up. "To argue it has anything to do with jobs, common sense or reality itself is stretching credulity past the breaking point, and seriously endangering the state's citizens and economy."

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