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Schwarzenegger Becomes the GOP's Green Candidate

He's in step with many voters, but not Bush, on environment. He may retrofit his Hummer.

September 07, 2003|Kenneth R. Weiss and Miguel Bustillo | Times Staff Writers

Arnold Schwarzenegger, long associated with one of the least environmentally friendly cars, is talking about retrofitting his Hummer to run on clean-burning hydrogen. The move is symbolic of a platform intended to appeal to voters in a state that has been at the forefront of environmental protection.

With Robert F. Kennedy Jr., one of the nation's most prominent environmental activists and a cousin of Schwarzenegger's wife, advising him on strategy, the film star is crafting a set of positions at odds with the Bush administration on a broad range of issues, from logging in the Sierra Nevada to controlling greenhouse gases from cars and trucks.

As the leading candidates in the Oct. 7 recall election articulate where they stand on a variety of environmental issues in California, Schwarzenegger's views are closer to those of liberal rivals than of his two Republican competitors.

Peter V. Ueberroth, for example, has distanced himself from a new state law, embraced by Schwarzenegger, that will require cars and trucks to emit less carbon dioxide to combat global warming. Ueberroth argues that the new pollution controls "would make automobile ownership more expensive."

Further to the right, Republican state Sen. Tom McClintock ridicules the law that targets global warming. He defends the rights of timber companies to harvest trees as they see fit on their own land and has publicly called for disbanding the California Coastal Commission, which regulates seaside development.

Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, the Democrats' top choice to replace Gov. Gray Davis if he is recalled, would strengthen the Coastal Commission. As state Assembly speaker, he made appointments to the commission and other panels that were praised by conservationists. But he disappointed environmentalists with his positions on pesticides and other issues important to the agricultural industry, the leading political force in his Fresno-area district.

At the opposite end of the spectrum from McClintock, Peter Camejo of the Green Party and independent candidate Arianna Huffington are striving to woo disaffected voters with bold environmental promises. On forest protection, Camejo wants a shift to "tree farms" to spare old-growth forests; Huffington proposes that the state buy them outright.

The major candidates and Davis come closest to agreement on the issue of oil drilling off the California coast. All have expressed objections to more drilling.

Davis has been reaching out to conservation-minded voters who complained of getting the cold shoulder from a governor they had supported in two elections.

In recent weeks, he has signed legislation making California the first state to ban toxic flame retardants widely used in the manufacture of furniture and computers. While he poses for pictures at scenic coastal sites, his Cabinet members are working on two expensive land acquisitions to preserve the Ballona Wetlands on the Los Angeles coast and the inland hills of the Ahmanson Ranch in Ventura County.

So far, most mainstream environmental groups are opposing the recall -- not because they are devoted to Davis, but because they believe the recall aims to undermine government and its role in regulating pollution.

"We believe it's an assault on government's ability to protect people and it's an abuse of the political process," said Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club. "It's not because Gray Davis is John Muir. Gray Davis is not John Muir."

Numerous polls have shown that Californians care more about the environment than people elsewhere in the country. The state's voters feel deeply protective of their coastlines, mountains and rivers, regardless of whether they are Democrats, Republicans or independents.

The result is a state government that often imposes stronger rules than the federal government on air pollution, coastal development and wildlife protection.

"The environment does play differently in California than the rest of the country," said Stephen Hayward, a senior fellow at the Pacific Research Institute who has advised President Bush on environmental issues. "Swing voters, the people who make a difference in elections, often look at the environment as one of the top issues in California."

But California is not monolithic when it comes to environmental sentiments.

Bustamante, from the conservative Central Valley, is making bows to environmentalists on the coast while trying to retain the loyalty of voters in his home region.

As lieutenant governor, Bustamante said, he pushed the State Lands Commission to adopt easements across beaches to make sure the public retained its right to sit on the dry sand. Those easements were offered by oceanfront homeowners in exchange for the right to build on the beach -- and the easements would have expired if the Lands Commission didn't adopt them.

"As a state, we must move to open these access ways and make certain our beaches are clean, safe and open for all Californians to enjoy," he said.

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