Oil companies--particularly Chevron--were the other major force
behind it. The state charges big polluters myriad fines to cover clean-up efforts. How Prop. 26 will affect the all-important climate law, however, is unclear. In 2006, Gov. Schwarzenegger pushed the California Global Warming Solutions Act, known as AB32, through the state's legislature. Among other emissions reduction efforts, the law establishes a cap-and-trade system for big polluters beginning next year. Prop. 26 may or may not retroactively attack the fees charged to implement this program.
"That's the million dollar question," says Cara Horowitz,
executive director of UCLA Law School's Emmett Center on Climate Change
and the Environment. "And the proposition is unclear in many respects.
Anybody who says they know for sure whether it will block [AB32 fees] or
allow them to go forward is being optimistic about their confidence in
their views. One thing I'm sure of is it will wind up in court."
In addition to retroactively gutting implementation fees, Prop. 26 could potentially classify the carbon credits polluters purchase under the new
cap-and-trade system as taxes, thereby sending the law back to the state legislature
for a two-thirds vote, which it barely received four years ago.
These contingencies, however, are just
that--contingent. Nobody is sure how Prop. 26 will affect the beloved
climate law Californians just saved from the axe of Prop. 23. This made
the proposition both difficult to explain to voters and less urgent for
environmental groups than the blunt force of Prop. 23.
"There's no doubt Prop. 23 sucked up all the air in the room," says
Horowitz. "It rightly got a ton of attention from the green coalition
out in California. It sucked up all the air in the room, probably at
expense of Prop. 26 efforts."
The mobilization against Prop. 23, and the amount of money poured into defeating it, was stunning. Despite painting
the campaigns for and against the proposition as a "David versus
Goliath battle," opponents of Prop. 23 raised $31 million, more than
three times the money spent by the coalition backing the initiative. They flooded the state's airwaves with a simple message: Oil companies are trying to trick voters into doing away with a law that is in their best interest.
"Everyone in California loves air control laws,
but who loves a fee?" Horowitz asks. "The messaging was a lot more difficult on Prop.
The expensive hype around Prop. 23 has proven that Californians are proud of their state's role as a green leader and innovator. In an enormously anticlimactic year for the environmental movement--with the fizzling of the climate bill in Congress, the rise of climate change denial among candidates for office, and the flat-lining of global climate summits--AB32 became a symbol for environmental progress on a global level. The fight to save the law from Prop. 23 became a battle to show that in the midst of a recession, people still cared about combating climate change.
Now the question is whether the energy generated by this battle will survive the technical, legally ambiguous threats of Prop. 26. Because as Horowitz points out, a state's environmental programs are only as good as the money that funds them.