Will Voters Undermine California's Cap-and-Trade Plan?

>Just a year ago, California was heralded as a leader on green energy and one of the most forward-thinking states on environmental issues. But now a new ballot initiative threatens to stall the state's cap-and-trade plan until its economy improves.

Mounting economic pressure has combined with California's voter-friendly policies and  brutal budget crunch to create a backlash against cap-and-trade. The state's plan, the first economy-wide version in the country, is set to take effect in 2012.  

The ballot measure's supporters cite studies -- some discredited -- that predict rising household expenses and widespread job losses once the law goes into effect. To combat these effects, the proposition would prevent the state from implementing the law until unemployment stabilizes at or below 5.5 percent for at least a year. Californians haven't been employed at those levels since 2007; the state's current jobless rate is 12.5 percent.

Both supporters and opponents of the measure believe it will have no trouble attaining the 434,000 signatures it needs to get on the ballot.

Governor Schwarzenegger, who once seemed to travel exclusively by Hummer, became an unlikely environmental warrior after he took office in 2003. In the past seven years, he has pushed California to the forefront of renewable energy and emissions reductions, even challenging the federal government on its reluctance to increase fuel efficiency standards. But the cap-and-trade measure, which passed in 2006, is the emerald in his crown. The law aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 -- a much more ambitious cut than the one proposed in last year's House bill -- and to cement California's role as a leader in the green energy economy.

Though Schwarzenegger has recently proposed loosening specifics of the legislation, he remains committed to seeing cap-and-trade through. Even if the ballot measure fails, Schwarzenegger's successor could suspend his vision with a single signature, as Republican frontrunner Meg Whitman has vowed to do on her first day in office.  

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Nicole Allan is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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