Proposition 23: Is it time to say enough is enough?
For several weeks now I have been considering the idea of bringing a discussion item (Proposition 23) before the Board of Supervisors to give the public benefit of our experience working within the system.
One side has been pitted against the other, and that’s all right for everyone to have a healthy debate; it is another thing altogether if it is good to bring this level of controversy inside the board chambers.
Several years ago, our board made a policy to only bring items that clearly are within the purview of our boards’ jurisdiction. Prop. 23 (for the most part) will have an effect on all of us, but due to its polarizing nature, it could be very disruptive to bring it before the Board of Supervisors when there is no immediate solution to be achieved. It belongs in the public’s hands.
I recently attended the RCRC (Regional Council of Rural Counties) board meeting and found their coverage helpful, so I give you the benefit of the agenda item that was brought before them Aug. 18, when 21 county supervisors (representing 30 Northern California counties) voted to officially support the passage of Prop. 23. This group is made up of Democrats and Republicans.
The total cost of implementing Assembly Bill 32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, has been the subject of controversy since the California Air Board released its first economic analysis in September 2008. Industry groups, legislators, business owners and the Legislative Analyst’s Office have all been critical of Air Board’s cost estimates, and with the current state of the economy, the public has become increasingly concerned about what the bill’s implementation means for California’s economic future.
During the 2009-10 legislative sessions, several bills were introduced to repeal or suspend part or all of the measures implemented by AB 32. These bills included SB 295 (Dutton), which would have suspended AB 32 until the unemployment rate in California was less than 5.8 percent for three consecutive months, and AB 118 (Logue), which included language almost identical to that of Proposition 23. SB 295 was ultimately amended to require Air Board to perform a more complete economic evaluation of implementing AB 32, while AB 118 subsequently died in committee.
Following the stalled progress of AB 118, several industry groups launched a campaign in January to place a measure on the ballot enacting a similar suspension of AB 32. The measure would suspend the implementation of all measures developed directly under AB 32 until the unemployment rate in California is at or below 5.5 percent for four consecutive quarters, or one full year. Once AB 32 goes back into effect, the measure could not suspend it again.
While Prop. 23 would suspend many regulations contained in the AB 32 Scoping Plan, many of the measures that most affect local governments would be implemented as scheduled (including SB 375) because they are implemented under other statutes.
If passed by voters, the Prop. 23 would suspend the development or implementation measures including the following:
– The proposed cap-and-trade program currently under development by the Air Board.
– The low carbon fuel standard already adopted by the Air Board.
– The already-adopted Air Board regulation that enables the state to collect fees from high GHG emitters.
– The 33 percent renewable electricity standard currently under development by the Air Board and the California Energy Commission
– The landfill methane control measure regulation already adopted by the Air Board.
– The heavy-duty GHG emission reduction measure (aerodynamic efficiency) already adopted by the Air Board.
– The green building standards already adopted by the Building Standards Commission.
– The mandatory commercial recycling requirements currently under development by the Air Board.
The following measures and policies would not be suspended by Proposition 23 because they are not implemented under AB 32.
– Land-use policies to promote reduction in vehicle miles traveled enacted by SB 375.
– Emission standards on new vehicles, enacted by AB 1493 (Pavely).
– Requirements to address GHG emissions in environmental documents and general plans as a result of a federal ruling labeling GHGs as air pollutants.
– Energy efficiency standards on buildings and appliances.
– Diesel retrofit regulations adopted as part of the Air Board’s Diesel Risk Reduction Plan.
Supporters of Prop. 23 estimate that AB 32 will not affect global warming because California’s GHG emissions comprise only 1.4 percent of the world’s total emissions, and that businesses will simply relocate to other states and countries in order to avoid complying with AB 32 measures.
Opponents of Prop. 23 counter supporters’ economic claims with the argument that the economy would be negatively impacted due to the potential for drastic job loss among the 500,000 California citizens employed in “green jobs,” as well as the loss of approximately $9 billion of venture capital investment in green technologies.
Critics also contend that while California’s unemployment rate was 4.8 percent when AB 32 was adopted, it was only at that low level for one quarter. The requirement that the unemployment rate remain at or below 5.5 percent for a year would likely cause AB 32 to be suspended for several years.
Opponents maintain that Proposition 23 has been proposed specifically to help large businesses with high GHG emissions avoid additional regulation because of the cost of compliance, characterizing it as a “dirty energy proposition” that would be detrimental to public health.
In a July 15 report, the Legislative Analyst’s Office declared that there would likely be both positive and negative effects on the state’s economy due to Prop. 23. The Analyst’s Office estimates that if voters pass Prop. 23, energy prices will be lower in the long run, but investments in energy-efficient technologies could stall, delaying the development of clean technologies that could save businesses and individual’s money in the future. The office also factors in the costs to businesses to comply with AB 32 overall; it estimates that the effect of Prop. 23 would be a modest increase in economic activity in the state in the short term, with long-term effects still unknown.
RCRC staff recommends a position of “support” on Prop. 23. Although RCRC supports voluntary GHG emissions reductions where feasible, it is difficult to justify moving forward with a potentially costly measure such as AB 32 in these current economic times.
The goal of reaching an unemployment rate of 5.5 percent or lower for an entire year is realistic, since according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, California’s unemployment rate was at or below 5.5 percent for the entire year 2000 and well into 2001, and again from mid-2005 to the final quarter of 2007.
Since the measure merely suspends AB 32 instead of repealing it, the state will be able to move forward with the implementation of its climate change regulation and measures once the economy has stabilized, rather than placing the immediate costs of AB 32 directly on California’s economically challenged citizens.
Out of 30 County members in RCRC, 22 were present at our last meeting, the vote taken was 21 Yes, 0 No, 1 Abstain (Napa) to support the passage of Prop 23.
I hope this helps with the important decisions (among others) you all will need to make in this next election.
John Spencer is a Nevada County Supervisor representing District 3.
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