OB Rag Fall 2010 Elections – Part 6
Proposition 23, which would suspend AB 32, the Global Warming Act of 2006, is the big bucks ballot box initiative this year. Proposition 19 (legalizing marijuana) may be getting the interest (at least that’s what our web stats show) and the initiative (Prop 25—coverage coming next week) changing the constitutional requirement to a simply majority for passing a budget may have the biggest long term impact, but the real slugfest is all about Proposition 23. Slick tv ads? Check. Mega-corporate war chests vs grass roots environmentalists? Check. Vote either way and the economy will shed a gazillion jobs? Check.
For those of you unfamiliar with the law that Proposition 23 is addressing, AB 32 requires that greenhouse gas emission levels in the California be cut to 1990 levels by 2020. The process of cutting greenhouse gas emissions in the state is slated under AB 32 to begin in 2012. The law passed the legislature in 2006 and was widely hailed at the time as a trendsetting and visionary measure. Governor Arnold even landed on the cover of Time Magazine for his support of the law, mostly because the media were amazed that a Republican would lend his support to a pro-environmental law. So it’s not like this is a sudden shock to the three oil companies that are fighting Prop. 23. They’ve had five years to prepare, but have elected to stand and fight rather than make the investments that this law will eventually require.
In their campaigns for and against the measure, supporters and opponents have each adopted nicknames, since the initiative is legally titled “Suspends Implementation of Air Pollution Control Law (AB 32) Requiring Major Sources of Emissions to Report and Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions that Cause Global Warming Until Unemployment Drops to 5.5 Percent or Less for Full Year Initiative Statute”. Catchy, huh? Supporters call Proposition 23 the “California Jobs Initiative”; opponents call it the “Dirty Energy Proposition”. We just call it stoopid. With two O’s.
The “premise” for Proposition 23 is that the current recession has created a situation wherein following the mandates specified in the law would cost California jobs and retard economic recovery. The advertising for 23 makes it seems as though its sponsors are so concerned about our State’s economic welfare, that they’re willing to sacrifice cleaner air for a couple of years until things get better. Yeah, right. And if you believe that, I’ve got several emails that I’ll share from concerned Nigerian bankers that need your help and are willing to give you big bucks in return for your bank account number.
Of course these ads don’t tell you that there are mechanisms built into AB32 that allow the governor of California to suspend or delay phasing in parts of the act based on economic conditions, and that both major candidates for that office have said they’ll use those mechanisms to do what they think is best for or State. Prop 23 delays the environmental controls until the unemployment rate sinks to 5.5% and stays there, something that is highly unlikely to happen over the next generation. Which means, in reality, Prop 23 is really about abolishing environmental controls—not, as the ads would have us believe, delaying implementation of AB32.
When you take a look at the money behind Proposition 23, it becomes easy to understand why somebody would want a measure on the ballot that equals more air pollution, asthma and environmental degradation.
One name that should be familiar to Californians is Valero Oil, based in Texas, which sells retails gasoline branded as Valero, Shamrock, Diamond Shamrock, Ultramar, Beacon, and Total. Its 18 refineries in the US, Canada and the Caribbean with a combined throughput capacity of approximately 3.3 million barrels per day, make it the largest refiner in North America. The Political Economy Research Institute ranks Valero 28th among corporations emitting airborne pollutants in the United States. And it’s given a mere $4 million to the yes on 23 campaign.
Another name that you might have seen in the news lately is Texas based Tesoro, which made the papers last week after being fined $2.29 million and cited for 44 workplace violations, ranging from willful disregard of safety regulations to failing to inspect and maintain decaying 40-year-old equipment, at its refinery north of Seattle, Washington. Seven workers died in an explosion there last spring when a 40-year-old steel heat exchanger ruptured. It hadn’t been inspected by Tesoro since 1998. You can tell that this is an outfit that cares about nothing beyond its profits by reading the news accounts of that tragedy. The Tesoro Companies have donated more that $1.5 million to the yes on 23 campaign.
Both Tesoro and Valero process petroleum in California and have repeatedly been caught illegally releasing hydrogen sulfide, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxide by state inspectors in recent years. The refineries that the two companies run in southern California and the Bay Area also illegally pump out large quantities of particulate matter, otherwise known as soot. In addition to spewing hazardous pollutants into the air and water of California, state records show Tesoro and Valero routinely fail to monitor their refineries, conduct the proper tests, and fail to report defective equipment and other problems.
And just to keep the money really dirty here, there’s the matter of the $1 million kicked in by Flint Hills Resources, operators of oil refineries in six states, a company owned by the infamous Koch Industries, ranked 10th on the top hundred list of US corporate air polluters in 2010. The brothers behind this company are also the secret money behind the Tea Party movement.
I could on here about the $500,000 donation from a mysterious Missouri Foundation that never received more than $100,000 from any donor in the past, or donations kicked in by Occidental Petroleum and similar companies, but why bother. It’s dirty oil money, plain and simple.
On the other side, the donors to the NO on 23 campaign read like a who’s who of environmental organizations, clean energy firms, and sustainability-oriented individuals. (Check it out here.) There are actually ten different groups campaigning against Prop 23, supported by diverse organizations ranging from the American Lung Association to the Teamsters.
I, for one, am very sure to be Voting No on 23.