Thursday, July 22, 2010

AB 32 Update

With less than a month till a special election to replace Abel Maldonado and a little over 4 months till the November 8 elections, the air in California feels a little more like a political war zone than the peaceful sunshine state. With attack adds ranging from hitting Santa Cruz's kindly John Laird to asking how many lies Meg Whitman can fit into various things it is hard to keep focused. The fight for climate change over California Assembly Bill 32 continues in the golden state and both sides have had their interesting moments.

Former Green For All director, Obama employee and 'green jobs czar' Van Jones came out publicly against the Proposition and laid out his concern that the effort to repeal AB 32 would hurt the economy of California, the traditional argument for the other side; the side calling for its repeal. From the Sacramento Bee:

Van Jones said efforts to roll back California's landmarkclimate change law will not only hurt Sacramento's budding clean-tech sector but also open the door for competing cities and states to wrest away green jobs and businesses... "It's like taking a sledgehammer to a job-creating machine," Jones said

The fact of the matter is that Van Jones is right, the green sector can be a huge growing industry and AB 32 helps put a cost on sectors that should move in that direction. From the Huffington Post;

More than 100 Ph.D. economists with expertise in California energy and climate issues joined a growing chorus of supporter for the state's energy and climate security law. We released an open letter warning against any delay in the implementation of California clean energy policies. The letter, organized by the Union of Concerned Scientists, features a broad array of leading economists who disagree with those who want to stop implementation of pollution reduction policies. "Delaying action now," the letter states, "will be more costly than initiating action now."

The argument, and it is a valid point, is that AB 32's implementation is a chance for behavior modification and the encouragement of an industry. If we fail to provide clear benefits for the green industry to grow in this state, other states will be more than happy to be the center of the green tech boom. This is an agreeable point but it must be made clear that there are never any real solid numbers to prove these types of arguments - sampling of information can be done in error, data can be fudged and results can be skewed.

Case in point, a reporthas come out from Varshney & Associates, an investment and advisory firm in California which specializes in stock picks. Supporters of Proposition 23 (that is right, the inverse of 32... funny) have been touting this report as "proving" that the costs of AB 32 becoming active are too much.

This report goes through 50-odd pages of assessments made about the hypothetical ramifications of AB 32 being enacted. Just within the first few pages questions arise with their methodology such as how the list of "discretionary spending categories" was generated and how the causal relationship was linked. At one point there is even a paragraph devoted to explaining the possible hypothetical uses they could come up with for the hypothetical tax revenues that would come in from the hypothetical growth of the industry from lack of implementation; nothing substantial. The report itself gives two caveats that stand out like a sore thumb; 1. " It is important to recognize that this analysis focuses on the costs of AB 32 and not whatever savings there may be." and 2. "...there is some uncertainty as to what the actual costs of AB 32 will be." In other words, this report has basically said "this is totally not 100% certain."

An Op Ed in the San Francisco Chronicle has shown the importance of this:

The Varshney & Associates report examined only the potential cost of the law and not the savings. As Hank Ryan, the executive director of the advocacy organization Small Business California, said, "Delaying implementation of AB32 is a lose-lose-lose for California - it will cost our state jobs, increase pollution and drive up energy costs for small businesses."

The importance of this fight has not been lost on the blogosphere and in the media. On Triplepundit's website there is a great article titled "AB 32 The Normandy of Climate Change Legislation" that brings us to the real meat of the situation, the political process;

What really matters is AB 32 Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 which requires California’s greenhouse gas emissions to be reduced to 1990 levels by 2020. But thanks to California’s absurdly easy rules that allow citizens to vote on complex legislation (which has run the gamut from a horsemeat ban to marriage to insurance laws), a measure on November’s ballot, Proposition 23, would scuttle AB 32. Using the argument that AB 32 is a jobs killer, two Texas oil companies are largely behind the effort to roll back AB 32.

This is something that has been of concern for a while. Back during the California recall I was working on a research project regarding Propositions and recalls and other direct democracy methods, how they developed and what the ramifications of that system could be. One of my deductions was that it could easily develop into a system of easily swayed electorates who will be generally misinformed reworking the political structure and process. Since my external hard drive decided to die, I will have to post a link to that later.

For now, the California Independent Voter Network(CAIVN) has a great article that touches upon this:

Our growing problem is that the citizen is nowhere to be seen in this process. Clearly, the California proposition process is so gamed and compromised that the original (and noble) goal of giving ordinary citizens a way to directly influence government is long gone and absent. Instead, we have well-funded special interests paying for the version of democracy they want to have implemented.

CAIVN's argument focuses mainly on the issue of paying signature gatherers. It is really just a small piece of the issue. As with many instances, this effort to get the proposition on the ballot, also has the money to back an outreach and support campaign to get it at least close to passing. PG&E, after the proposition 16 failure, have also thrown their hats in on this issue as well.

This is all coming on the same trail as the currently dead Federal Energy bill which is too depressing for me to talk about right now but has the perfect image for this story;

Again, what the fight overAB32 should come down to is not the jobs argument, or the state budget effects, or even really the environmental argument since it doesn't seem important to the opposition anyway. What we should be realizing is that this is also a fight between direct and representative democracy. This is a straight forward example of the "citizenry" trying to over turn or "recall" a piece of legislation that went through the difficult two house of representatives process to then be signed into law by the Governor, all who had been duly elected by the people. This is an instance where the electorate have been misled by larger business interests and while there are those who defend this act of external investment in our state's political process, it is becoming rather annoying how many times this issue keeps cropping up in our political past. Remember it was also a huge issue for Harvey Milk and the ban on homosexuals in education.

What really tips the scales of why the out of state oil company contribution can't be ignored is the fact that this process didn't start when the bill was ratified in 2006, but a full four years later. I hope that the previously mentioned quote from the mentioned report quells any "well we didn't know what the effects would be" argument since there is uncertainty on both sides. This legislation has been trying to look at the longer vision and the bigger picture since its inception, a viewpoint I hope those who react solely out of fear take a moment to consider.

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