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Will GOP Gov. Have a Green Agenda?

Schwarzenegger's stance on the environment, one of California's signature issues, could shed light on his other politics.

October 27, 2003|Miguel Bustillo | Times Staff Writer

As Arnold Schwarzenegger interviews candidates for key positions in his administration, both conservatives and liberals are eagerly watching for clues to his stands on environmental policy, seeing those issues as early indicators of what sort of Republican the governor-elect truly is.

Some conservatives, who have long complained about the stringency of California's environmental protections, fear Schwarzenegger may be overly influenced by liberal advisors and could add to a tangle of regulations that they already consider suffocating for business.

But many liberal environmental activists, whose organizations mostly supported Gov. Gray Davis in the recall campaign, are no less concerned about Schwarzenegger. Many activists fear the new administration will hew to Bush administration environmental policies they oppose.

"We're going to find out whether Gov. Schwarzenegger is the guy who put out the progressive position paper on environmental issues, or the guy who hinted at eliminating the Cal/EPA and who bragged about helping to bring the Hummer into prominence," said Bill Magavern, a California lobbyist for the Sierra Club.

The jitters on both sides illustrate how little is known about the next governor's actual beliefs on one of the signature issues of California politics.

Conservatives point worried fingers at such advisors as Bonnie Reiss, who ran Schwarzenegger's Inner City Games Foundation and is one of his closest aides. Reiss founded the Earth Communications Office, a Los Angeles-based group that helped place environmental messages in television shows in the early 1990s -- notably in an episode of "Designing Women" that dealt with cloth diapers.

During the recall campaign, the conservative magazine California Political Review published a story deriding the presence of Reiss, a "Hollywood green activist," in the Schwarzenegger camp, calling her a "red flag" for conservative Republicans. Despite the criticism, the governor-elect named Reiss to his transition team.

Environmental activists, on the other side, point to U.S. Rep. David Dreier (R-San Dimas), the head of Schwarzenegger's transition team. Dreier received a 5% grade from the League of Conservation Voters for his environmental record in the 2001-02 session of Congress.

Progressive Republican?

Standing between the two sides is a core of Republican environmentalists who believe Schwarzenegger possesses a combination of fiscal conservatism and environmental sensitivity that could provide a golden opportunity for their party in California.

"So many Republicans find it frustrating that the party has not been more progressive on environmental issues," said Robert Grady, who oversaw environmental policy as a White House official under the first President Bush and who now serves on the Schwarzenegger transition team.

"Most people, especially here in California, want strong environmental protections. I have always believed, and obviously Gov.-elect Schwarzenegger believes, that this is the majority view."

Grady and another moderate Republican member of the transition team, former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator William Reilly, were among the architects of the 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act. The changes introduced a "cap and trade" pollution credit system to reduce acid rain that has proved effective, but that was widely criticized by some environmentalists at the time.

"Our membership is really high on Mr. Schwarzenegger," said Jim DiPeso, policy director of Republicans for Environmental Protection, a national group that has been critical of the current Bush administration.

"It was a good sign that he put Bill Reilly on his transition team," DiPeso added. "Reilly is way up there as far as we are concerned in terms of being a Republican environmentalist."

The acid rain program was only one example of how environmental policymakers in the first Bush administration experimented with a mix of regulations and market-based tools, such as the trading of pollution credits, to clean the country's air and water. Similar incentive-laden approaches could be a centerpiece of Schwarzenegger's environmental policy, according to some of the advisors and environmentalists assisting the governor-elect.

Early efforts, they suggested, could aim to coax farmers to become willing partners in land conservation and to persuade businesses to invest in renewable energy technologies, such as solar and hydrogen power.

As he ponders ways to bridge the state's gargantuan budget gap, Schwarzenegger could also increase fees on dirty industries to help finance state regulatory programs, some advisors suggested. That sort of "polluter pays" concept is strongly endorsed by environmental organizations.

Schwarzenegger may also look to change the composition of the state Air Resources Board to address a recent worsening of air quality problems in Los Angeles and a steadily mounting pollution problem in the Central Valley.

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