Airing Out Prop. 23

Some say it would save jobs, others say it would lead to more wheezing and global warming



Three weeks ago Dan Ihara of the Center for Environmental Economic Development in Arcata held a house party for opponents to Proposition 23 -- called the "California Jobs Initiative" by its proponents and the "Dirty Energy Proposition" by those against it, like Ihara.

But only five people showed up to Ihara's party, one of 80 that night across the state sponsored by the Union of Concerned Scientists. Which is surprising in a city that prides itself on being the green queen -- in California -- of innovation and initiative when it comes to energy conservation and emissions reductions. Prop. 23 should be the green faithful's call to arms, their current reason for being.

"It would stop the cutting-edge pollution laws we have passed already," said Ihara about a week after the party. "And it's not a case of jobs versus the environment. [Prop. 23] would reduce good-paying jobs -- and cutting edge jobs, too -- in one of the fastest-growing sectors of the economy."

Prop. 23 would suspend implementation of Assembly Bill 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act, passed by the state legislature in 2006, until the state's unemployment rate -- currently at 12 percent -- drops to 5.5 percent or lower for four consecutive quarters. The rate's only been that low for that long three times in the past 20 years, according to the Legislative Analyst's Office. In essence, the suspension of AB32 would be for an indefinite, likely prolonged amount of time.

AB32 requires the state to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 -- about a 15 percent reduction from what we're emitting today, or a 30 percent reduction from what we are projected to be emitting by 2020 if we continue as we are. The plan that the California Air Resources Board has developed for meeting the emissions reduction goal includes a mix of voluntary measures, regulations, market-based measures and incentives, everything from increasing appliance and vehicle efficiency to carbon sequestration in forests to a cap-and-trade system that would limit how much greenhouse gas major polluters could emit. The polluters would meet the goal by cutting back emissions or buying "credits" from other entities who have voluntarily cut their own emissions above and beyond what is called for under the regulations.

Prop. 23, which seeks to undo all this, is funded largely by out-of-state oil companies such as Valero, Tesero and Koch Industries -- a point opponents (who actually include Shell Oil and PG&E) make as the number one reason not to trust its intentions. But it's captured the heart of some of the relative little guys, too, who fear AB32's regulations will crush them at a time when the economy's already in the crapper. One of these is Arcata-based O&M Industries, a steel fabrication, sheet metal and industrial construction company, which has signed on in support of Prop. 23. O&M has offices throughout the state; locally, it was a major subcontractor for the now-closed pulp mill.

"We have about 100 people employed now, and we were around 170 a few years ago," said Rob McBeth, one of O&M's owners. "We figure AB32 would cost us, over the next 10 years, over a million dollars and maybe even up to a couple million, just to upgrade or replace equipment -- engines, cranes, manlifts, forklifts."

He said his company won't be able to afford to upgrade or replace equipment that doesn't get much use, such as their heavy-lift forklifts, to meet the new emissions requirements. "Which means we'll just have to stop bidding on heavy load jobs, and those'll have to go to out-of-state bidders. We just can't spend $100,000 on a forklift that we might use five or six times a year. It will have a huge financial impact and it will put us at a competitive disadvantage, mainly with out-of-state folks. ... And just the crush of bureaucracy in California. Our mechanic, instead of mechanicking, spends hours and hours on AB32 paperwork now. I'm not opposed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but I think California's gone overboard."

One argument against Prop. 23 -- for AB32's continuance -- doesn't so much deny that some sectors will lose business and jobs, but suggests instead that many more jobs will be gained in the clean energy sector. And that, in turn, will spin us faster toward the higher goal: curbing global warming as well as cleaning the air.

"This is a job creator, not a job destroyer," Peter Lehman, director of the Schatz Energy Research Center at Humboldt State University, said about AB32. The Schatz Center is currently developing a broad plan to make Humboldt County ultra-green and energy self-sufficient. "Suspending it would have international implications. I mean, the United States has been a laggard when it comes to addressing climate change. China is going to become a world leader in renewable energy technology; they're going to make a lot of money. And we're dropping the ball."

He said California has been the one shining light in the nation in terms of combating global warming. Prop. 23 would send the message that we just don't give a damn anymore, he said. And ultimately, that could impact groups such as his that depend on grants funded by companies with an incentive -- voluntary or regulation-driven -- to invest in green energy.

Humboldt Redwood Company, part of Mendocino Redwood Company, also is against Prop. 23.

"We do feel the issue of greenhouse gas emission needs to be addressed," said HRC's chief forester, Mike Jani. "And, from a forestry perspective, the science shows that well-managed forests in California are the only net carbon sequesterer in the state."

Under the new but still evolving California Climate Action Registry, landowners can register their lands as official carbon sequestration forests in which, following state-approved protocols, they grow more, and bigger, trees than they harvest. Polluters can buy carbon offset credits from such forests. We already have one here in Humboldt, the Van Eck Forest by McKinleyville. Gov. Schwarzenegger famously bought offsets from it.

So far, buying carbon offsets is voluntary. Someday, under cap-and-trade, it could be a way for polluters to achieve a mandatory emissions reduction.

The MRC has already enrolled its entire 229,000 acres of forest holdings in Mendocino and Sonoma in the registry. It plans to enroll HRC's 208,000 acres someday, too.

And if Prop. 23 passes and AB32 is suspended?

"I don't think we would change course," Jani said. "Because as long as the carbon registry continues, I think the voluntary market will be out there. I don't think the carbon market worldwide would cease. And some other states might pick up cap-and-trade."

Meanwhile, there is actually a bit more perking on the local action front. The Humboldt Taxpayers League supports Prop. 23. The Redwood Coast Energy Authority's board passed a resolution Monday night to oppose it. The Arcata City Council is studying all the state props at its meeting this Wednesday. And the local Sierra Club's holding a phone banking rally in Sunnybrae this Sunday to shout out against Prop. 23.

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