By Ryan Mann
Junior, La Jolla High School
In 2006, the California state government passed AB 32, which committed California to a leadership role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating climate change. AB 32 set a goal of reducing greenhouse gas levels to 1990 levels by 2020. Starting in 2012, greenhouse gas emissions will be reported and heavy polluters will be charged through the cap-and-trade system. Cap-and-trade would penalize polluting companies and would allocate the pollution fee to renewable energy and other environmentally focused programs. Yes, polluting companies will pass on some of this cost to consumers, but studies indicate the additional cost is minimal — $300 per household per year. A similar program was used in the 1990s to reduce the pollutants from power plants, and was considered a successful, fiscally conservative strategy for reducing harmful air pollution.
Propositions 23 and 26 are both cleverly designed to cripple AB 32. Prop. 23 “temporarily” freezes AB 32 until the unemployment rate is below 5.5 percent for four consecutive quarters (1 year.) The wording of this proposition deceives the voter in two ways:
First of all, linking AB 32 to the unemployment rate plants the idea that mitigating global warming would cause even greater unemployment and economic problems. In fact, the opposite is true — right now 500,000 Californians have “green jobs” and the clean-tech jobs sector is growing five times faster than the rest of the job market. AB 32 — with its commitment to greenhouse gas emission reduction — would accelerate the pace of this job growth. However, voting Yes on Proposition 23 would slow this job growth and would show green entrepreneurs that California is not the place to set up their business.
The second fallacy is that 5.5 percent unemployment for four consecutive quarters is clearly not an achievable goal. The current unemployment rate is around 12 percent. Over the last 30 to 40 years, the unemployment rate has briefly dipped below 5.5% maybe 3 or 4 times - never for a full year. Tesoro and Valero, the oil companies behind Prop 23, have cleverly set up conditions that sound plausible, but are clearly never going to happen.
Prop. 26 is even more confusing, and the arguments for it are far more deceptive. Prop. 26 requires a two-thirds legislative majority in order to penalize companies that pollute or endanger health and public safety. Compared to a simple majority vote, Prop. 26 makes it much more difficult to penalize offending companies. In effect, it would shift the cost of the company’s pollution from the company itself to California taxpayers.
The proponents of Prop. 26, however, make it sound like Prop. 26 protects taxpayers from “hidden taxes.” This could not be further from the truth. Prop. 26 protects polluters from penalty fees, forcing taxpayers to cover the cost of their wrongdoing. A bill that claims to be closing a tax loophole is in fact letting oil, tobacco, and alcohol companies off the hook for their societal damage and costing taxpayers around $1 billion per year.