As the mid-term elections approach, Californians will not only be faced with a choice for a new governor, but also new energy legislation that will have ripple effects throughout the country. Proposition 23 would suspend the existing Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, which aimed to lower carbon emissions 25% by 2020, until the state’s unemployment rate falls below 5.5%. If enacted, the measure will further delay progress in Washington on climate legislation and lead to a very long wait for a regional carbon market.
California has been hit with some of the worst unemployment rates in the country. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics 12.4% of the state’s population were unemployed in September 2010, 2.8% higher than the national average. When Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the Act in 2006, unemployment was at 4.6% but that was also during a very different economic climate throughout the country.
Both California gubernatorial candidates Republican Meg Whitman and Democrat Jerry Brown say they oppose Prop 23. However, this is not only a state issue. The outcome of Prop 23 will reflect the path of climate legislation on a national level. Even though the candidates in California are united on this issue, Washington is divided, where Republicans and Democrats are at odds on the passage of comprehensive climate legislation that would enable a national cap-and-trade market and legally reduce emissions.
If Prop 23 passes, its effects will be felt in Washington. This can give lawmakers further fuel to negate any type of national carbon cap. The Global Warming Solutions Act was also prepared to establish a regional cap and trade market, one of the few initiatives in the country. If Prop 23 is enacted, that situation will not only put a carbon market on the backburner for California, but it will also hinder any type of national carbon market. A potential positive note is that if it is passed, the Global Warming Solutions Act will only be suspended until unemployment drops below 5.5%, giving hope that it can be resumed in the near future. However, unemployment rates in California have dropped below 5.5% levels only three times in the past 40 years. California and Washington will be in for a very long wait.
On the other hand, if Prop 23 fails, that may give politicians in Washington the leverage they need to pass national legalisation. They can argue that the American people, especially those in California, want state and perhaps national regulation of carbon emissions. They can use the failure of Prop 23 with the gubernatorial winner to gather support. It can also be used to promote an increase in the investment in renewable energy sources. California can set an example and become a national leader in the development of clean energy technology.
In 2009, only 36% of Americans believe climate change is man-made, according to a study byPew Research Center. This figure has reflected failed climate legislation in Washington. If Prop 23 fails, it may be an indication of a change in public perception that can provide tools for the Senate to pass national legislation.