Pacific Swell | Southern California environment news and trends

Elections and the environment: A Green roundup of news and opinions on what's to come

3391589858 f30acd0df3 z

Environmentalists are celebrating the defeat of Prop 23, which would have suspended California’s landmark global warming law, AB 23. Reports LA Times: “Proposition 23 failed by a stunning 61% to 39%, giving heart to national environmental leaders and signaling the advent of new players in eco-politics: high-tech entrepreneurs, mainly based in Silicon Valley, who see clean energy as an economic investment.”

At Salon’s How the World Works blog, Andrew Leonard opines that the defeat of Prop 23 “affirms the California dream” — with repercussions far beyond the Golden state. “California’s economy is so large that the state can, by itself, make a huge, globally relevant impact on the development of clean and renewable energy technology.” NY Times delves into the fight behind Prop 23, dissecting the strategies that went into defeating the dirty energy proposition.

In addition, Sen. Barbara Boxer and governor-elect Jerry Brown’s wins made for a clean energy and climate trifecta in California, according to Joseph Romm in Grist. “This should send a message that opposition to clean energy and pollution reductions can be politically costly — if it is met with unabashed messaging by climate hawks.” Former state legislator Tom Hayden agrees. In an op-ed in the LA Times, Tom writes: “with the second coming of Jerry Brown, the reelection of Barbara Boxer and voter endorsement of state policies to curb global warming, California really is poised to lead the country to a greener future.”

The passage of Prop 26, however, has many environmentalists worried. Although Pacific Swell readers knew about how the Chevron-backed initiative could make AB 32-related regulations difficult to pass, many Californians did not. “Environmentalists fear that Proposition 26 will make it almost impossible to enforce regulations under AB 32, the state’s ambitious climate-change law as well as to enact fees aimed at combating pollution and hazardous waste,” reports LA Times. And KQED’s Climate Watch warns: “regulators may want to gird for the next skirmish.” Because the voting pattern seen in the defeat of Prop 23 and the passage of Prop 26 is strangely incongruent, Prop 26 could end up in the courts — and could get thrown out, reports NY Times.

Heal the Bay’s Mark Gold gives an example of what the passage of Prop 26 means for efforts to enforce environmental regulations:

Under the initiative, plastic bag fees like one now being considered by Santa Monica will need a two-thirds vote of the public if a portion of the funds go to government for program implementation or enforcement. This will change the Santa Monica fee-based approach (about three and a half cents of a 20-cent paper bag fee was going to go to the city) into an AB 1998 approach that bans plastic and paper bags and allows retailers to sell bags for a cost of no less than a nickel, dime or some other value.

Nationally, election results were less green, with NY Times reporting that “voters effectively pressed the reset button on climate legislation.” New laws are more likely to be “pared-down policy changes,” not sweeping bills.

Grist reports that “half of the Republican caucus in the U.S. Congress now questions the scientific consensus that greenhouse pollution is a civilizational threat. ” Republican attack of the U.S. EPA’s climate rules are expected. “For the Republicans, the first order of business could be legislation to stop EPA from regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act,” reports NY Times.

In fact, the presumed new House majority leader, John Boehner of Ohio, fought against the cap-and-trade bill last year. NY Times’ Green blog points out that Boehner didn’t seem to understand the basics of climate science in an April 2009 interview with ABC News and “appeared to scoff at the idea that climate change was anything to be concerned about.”

And the new leader of the House Energy and Commerce Committee is unlikely to support cap-and-trade legislation or climate-friendly policies. Ecotrope reports that two Republican candidates likely to chair the committee are both challenging the U.S. EPA’s regulatory authorities.

However, in Grist, Christopher Mims argues the elections were not a referendum on climate, clean energy, or the climate bill. “While more than two dozen incumbents who voted for the climate bill lost their seats, even more Democrats who voted against the climate bill lost theirs.” Still Christopher also opines that “Tuesday’s election results mean it is now virtually impossible to avoid exceeding the targets set forth by the U.N. for “safe” levels of climate change.”

Climate-related lawsuits are expected to proliferate, reports NY Times. “The number of lawsuits either supporting or opposing efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions is set to triple by the end of this year as compared to last year. And by late 2010 or early 2011, the nation could even see some of the more public and contentious climate change legal battles come before the Supreme Court. ” All this could mean uncertainties for energy companies — both clean and dirty ones — and
At reduced funding for clean energy research.

While Democrats held onto their majority in the Senate, the Senate too added a lot of climate change deniers to its ranks, reports Grist, which has a summary of the senate results as well as the results for environment-related state initiatives.

Photo: Mike Baird/Flickr