California voters’ support for state climate change law rises

December 11, 2010

IMG_1322.JPGMemo to Texas oil companies Tesoro and Valero: The return on your investment in California environmental politics is falling faster than the snow on the Sierra Nevada.

The petroleum refiners bankrolled Proposition 23, a measure on the November that would have suspended AB 32, California’s landmark global warming law. But they found themselves outspent and out-organized by a coalition of venture capitalists, hedge fund managers, renewable energy companies, environmental justice activists and some high-profile Republicans like California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. In the end, Prop 23 suffered a crushing defeat when 61.6 percent of voters cast ballots against the measure.

Now a new Field poll commissioned by Next 10, a non-profit San Francisco research firm, shows that California voters’ support for AB 32 has risen since the Nov. 2 election.

The survey of 493 registered voters released this week found that 66 percent of them favor AB 32, which requires California to cut its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. And 64 percent support the cap-and-trade carbon trading market the state recently unveiled and which, if approved by the California Air Resources Board, will go into effect in 2012.

“Seventy-three percent of California voters agree strongly or somewhat that California can reduce greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming and expand jobs and economic prosperity at the same time,” according to Next 10.

Of course, environmental issues are as Californian as beaches and clogged highways. But a parsing of the county-by-county election returns for Prop 23 shows the breadth of support for the climate change law and may offer some lessons for attempts to enact such legislation in other states, if not nationally.

Broad swaths of California’s conservative inland counties voted No on 23, according to California Secretary of State records. For instance, while a majority of voters in Riverside and San Bernardino counties favored Meg Whitman, the Republican candidate for governor, over Democrat Jerry Brown, they voted No on 23. So did San Diego County, not exactly known as a bastion for tree-hugging types.

While there hasn’t been any in-depth polling on why those voters rejected the oil companies’ attempt to portray AB 32 as a job killer, my own reporting indicates that if anything the climate law has been viewed as a job creator.

In the weeks leading up to the election, California and federal regulators approved half a dozen multibillion-dollar massive solar projects so that developers could break ground to qualify for a lucrative federal incentive that covers 30 percent of a power plant’s cost. What made the headlines was that those projects would create an estimated 8,000 jobs in the coming years.

Nearly all the solar projects will be built in desert counties devastated by the housing collapse and where unemployment rates hover around 15 percent.

Two weeks before the election I visited the San Bernardino County construction site of BrightSource Energy’s Ivanpah solar power plant, the first big solar thermal project to break ground in two decades.

Among the dozens of  laborers on the Mojave Desert site was a 36-year-old father of seven who told me he had been unemployed for a year but thanks to what he called “the green thing” he could look forward to three more years of steady work.

(Photo: Todd Woody)

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