Ibsen’s classic play An Enemy of the People tells the story of Thomas Stockman who warns citizens of his Norwegian town that their primary tourist attraction, public baths, is a contaminated health hazard. Manipulated by wealthy polluters, the townspeople refuse to accept the truth, turn against Stockman, and brand him “enemy of the people.” Now a similar drama is being played out in California where wealthy polluters are trying to convince voters to repeal the state’s clean air act (AB 32).
In 2006, California Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed AB 32 after the legislature had passed it with strong (Democratic) majorities. The Global Warming Solutions Act mandates a timetable to bring California into compliance with the provisions of the Kyoto Protocol and reduce California's greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020. At the time Schwarzenegger said, “When I campaigned for governor three years ago, I said I wanted to make California No. 1 in the fight against global warming… [AB32] is good for businesses.”
Despite the support of the “Governator,” California Republicans steadfastly opposed the bill and this year placed an initiative, (Proposition 23), on the November ballot that would “freeze the provisions of AB 32 until California's unemployment rate drops to 5.5% or below for four consecutive quarters.” This would kill the clean air bill, as California’s unemployment rate is 12.4 per cent and has dropped to 5.5% only three times in the last forty years.
Conservatives argue that AB 32 is a “job killer” and have raised $8.2 million in support of Proposition 23. $1 million was contributed by the infamous Koch brothers — who helped start the Tea Party movement. Almost $7 million came from two Texas oil companies, Tesoro and Valero, who have repeatedly violated California pollution laws.
For the Koch brothers, Tesoro, and Valero opposition to emissions control is a business decision. For Republicans it has become a key political strategy. The GOP has taken the position that global climate change is a hoax: “Of the 20 serious GOP Senate challengers who have taken a position, 19 have declared that the science of climate change is inconclusive or flat-out incorrect.” (Republicans take this position regardless of overwhelming evidence to the contrary; for example, the terrible weather of the past summer when one-third of Pakistan went underwater. “When the nonpartisan National Academy of Sciences last reviewed [climate changed data], it concluded: ‘A strong, credible body of scientific evidence shows that climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for a broad range of human and natural systems.")
Fortunately for California, there’s a broad base of support to defeat Proposition 23 and retain The Global Warming Solutions Act. Republican George Shultz, Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of State, is chairman of the campaign to defeat Proposition 23. In addition to environmental groups and liberals of all persuasions the “No on 23” campaign has the support of cutting edge business people such as Thomas Steyer, founder of hedge fund Farallon Capital Management, who believes that “there is a huge clean energy revolution going on” and AB 32 will create jobs.
Governor Schwarzenegger is actively campaigning to defeat Proposition 23. “Today, Valero and Tesoro are in a conspiracy… Does anyone think in their black oil company hearts that they want to create jobs?” Other Republican candidates have split on Proposition 23. Senatorial candidate Carly Fiorina supports it, saying AB 32 is “undoubtedly a job killer” and has accepted campaign funds from a Koch PAC. Gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman dubbed parts of AB 32 “job killing” but waffled, saying she would vote no on Proposition 32 but if elected Governor would delay the implementation timetable until the California economy improved.
In addition to corporate greed, the opposition to The Global Warming Solutions Act is based on two contentions: AB 32 will cost jobs and raise energy prices. Climate Progress fact checked these contentions and found them both to be false. It’s Proposition 23 that’s the job-killer: “ failing to implement greenhouse gas policies will lead to increases in fossil fuel prices that will lower GSP [Gross State Product] by over $80 billion and offer 626,000 fewer jobs.” In contrast, California’s emphasis on renewable energy and energy efficiency will create an estimated 112,000 jobs.
Rather than raise energy prices, AB 32 will reduce them: “Between now and 2020, without implementation of [AB 32], private electricity costs in California will be up to $100 per person higher in 2020.”
The latest California Field Poll shows that opponents of Proposition 23 outnumber supporters by eleven points – 45 to 34 percent. But there are a significant number of undecided voters and the barrage of polluter-funded deceptive ads is just starting.
Will the Enemy of the People scenario play out again? Will voters buy the false arguments of wealthy polluters and vote against their own best interests? Stay tuned.
Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org