The actor-turned-politician, Arnold Schwarzenegger, now Governor of California, is sought to be made out to be the environmental icon of the Centre Right. An overexcited BBC correspondent describes a new legislation AB 32 as Arnold Schwarzenegger's green revolution, confidently predicting that it is the answer to irresponsible energy binge. It will have a a knock-on effect across the US. he says.
But many are skeptical.
AdvertisementA top California air official resigned Monday last, saying that the Schwarzenegger administration "has lost its way on air quality."
Catherine Witherspoon, executive director of the California Air Resources Board, resigned less than a week after Arnold Schwarzenegger fired the board's chairman, Robert Sawyer, who said he was dismissed for aggressively pursuing greenhouse gas emission reductions. But first the good news.
The Assembly Bill 32 (AB32), or the Global Warming Solutions Act, passed last year by California's Democratic-led assembly, with the backing of the governor, a Republican.
The legislation obliges California to cut emissions back to 1990 levels by 2020. Work has begun on quantifying the level of emissions, after which a cap will be enforced, and industries will be able to buy and sell permits allowing a certain amount of pollution.
CALIFORNIA ACTS ON CLIMATE - what the bill proposes 2002 law on vehicle emissions cuts copied by 10 other states 2006 law AB32 demands cut in emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 $3bn programme to install solar panels on a million roofs Power generators must source 20% from renewable sources by 2010 Power firms rewarded if customers decrease energy use State suing six car makers for damage to climate While California's law has yet to be implemented fully, it is already being used as a template for nationwide action that American environmentalists hope will turn their country from a laggard on climate change, to a leader.
Fabian Nunez, the speaker of California's state parliament, says that was exactly the intention.
"If you look at Congress and the White House you would think that climate change is not a big issue with Americans, but that is false. The growing awareness about climate change across America has been incredible," he says.
"The intent for us when we passed AB32 was not only our commitment to California."
"There is a sense of state activism.
"When you look around and see that our president has essentially turned a blind eye to the issue of climate change, it raises a lot of concerns. So we wanted to help put the pressure on the federal government, and we think that's worked quite well thus far."
Indeed, the dominoes have started falling across the country.
Nine north-eastern states have committed to their own carbon trading scheme, and more than 400 mayors have pledged their cities to reduce emissions.
And the green tide is now rising in Washington too, where Nunez's Democratic colleagues gained control of Congress in November.
The speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, has pulled together a raft of different measures, being considered by 11 different congressional committees, under the banner of "energy independence".
Many of the measures - which include new energy efficiency standards for appliances, increased use of ethanol to power vehicles, and long-term financial incentives for renewable power - tie in with President Bush's call to reduce America's dependence on foreign oil.
But before one gets carried away, here is the reality check.
Dr. Margo Thorning, Senior Vice President and Chief Economist for the American Council for Capital Formation has warned, "AB 32 is likely to cause "leakage" of industry to states and countries with no mandatory emission caps resulting in job losses and no net reduction in GHGs. Given the quality and quantity of empirical research demonstrating that near-term targets and timetables for CO2 emissions reductions will negatively impact California without materially slowing the growth of global emissions, policymakers in California should consider carefully whether they want to proceed down this path alone."
And Schwarzenegger administration seems to be listening.
It is not the first time the governor has made bold promises on the environment while his administration dragged its feet behind the scenes. Schwarzenegger has vetoed bills that would put new taxes on polluters, spur the development of alternative fuels and help clean the air. He has accepted $1 million in campaign cash from the oil industry, and he had threatened to veto the global warming bill unless it was made more business-friendly, said a critic.
Although the governor says he wants to hold polluters more accountable, administration officials recently signaled lawmakers that Schwarzenegger may not support a separate legislative crackdown. Lawmakers are proposing to prohibit the dirtiest equipment from being used on public works projects bankrolled with state bond money approved by voters last year.
In interviews with The Times, Catherine Witherspoon, executive director of the California Air Resources Board, mentioned earlier, said there had been a pattern of interference by the governor's top staff in favor of industry lobbyists seeking to weaken or stall air pollution regulations, including the state's landmark global warming law and proposed regulations on diesel construction equipment and wood products containing formaldehyde.
"They were ordering us to find ways to reduce costs and satisfy lobbyists," she said, adding that the governor's chief of staff, Susan Kennedy, and Cabinet Secretary Dan Dunmoyer took the lead on pressuring the agency staff and board chairman.
The departures, along with the planned resignation of the top Cal/EPA deputy, Dan Scopek, regarded by many as a key appointee on climate change policies, could hamper California's efforts to implement its landmark Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32) and other tough air pollution controls, legislative leaders and some observers said.
Witherspoon also accused Democratic legislative leaders of being so focused on criticizing the governor that, like Schwarzenegger, they were not making decisions about which industries need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and by how much.
The Democrats have consistently fought for mandatory regulations, while Schwarzenegger has advocated a cap and trade approach, in which limits are set on emissions but businesses can exceed the limits by purchasing credits from others that have stayed under the cap. She said both approaches were needed.
Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuņez (D-Los Angeles), the author of AB 32, called the loss of the air board's top two leaders "a fiasco" and ordered legislative hearings to be held Friday to investigate the reasons for their departures.
"I don't want this issue to impact our fight on global warming," he said. "The spotlight is on California, and I don't want people in other states to say, 'Oh, look at California. AB 32 is falling apart, so we're not going to do anything either.' "
Nuņez said he agreed with Witherspoon that legislators need to "push harder" to make the law work.
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