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Davis Poised to Sign Green Bills

The governor has embraced more environmentalist legislation than he did in his more cautious past.

September 21, 2003|Miguel Bustillo | Times Staff Writer

Gray Davis is poised to sign a spate of environmental measures to curb air pollution, boost recycling and protect the state's coastline and forests in the coming days -- part of a concerted effort to rally supporters whom the beleaguered governor cannot afford to lose.

One of the most far-reaching measures, a first-in-the-nation bill to slap a recycling fee on all new computers and televisions, is not much different from legislation Davis vetoed last year. But aides to the Democratic governor say he will probably sign it this time around, even though it is still opposed by Hewlett-Packard, the state's largest computer maker.

Before the recall campaign, Davis' cautionary approach to environmental policy often exasperated conservationists. But with the electronics recycling legislation and other measures, including a bill that would subject Central Valley farmers to tougher clean-air laws, the governor appears willing to take more political risks.

"The dynamics of the recall help us," said Mark Murray, head of the environmental group Californians Against Waste, the main sponsor of the electronic recycling bill. "Every signal we are getting from the administration is that it is important for this governor to be perceived as a friend of the environment."

As he has campaigned against the recall, Davis repeatedly has made a point of reminding Californians of his environmental record.

The governor signed legislation last month making the state the first to ban toxic flame retardants commonly found in clothing and furniture. He has signaled support for numerous other environmental bills, including measures to help the state purchase the Ballona Wetlands in Los Angeles, prevent oil spills and fortify the state's strong clean-air laws amid efforts by the Bush administration to weaken the rules.

On Monday, Davis is set to take his environmental stagecraft to a new level. He is scheduled to unveil a new partnership with the governors of Washington and Oregon to combat global warming.

The three Pacific Coast Democrats have agreed to a number of joint measures in response to what they regard as irresponsible inaction on climate change from President Bush. Their ideas include pooling money to buy hybrid vehicles and compiling a tri-state inventory of greenhouse gas emissions.

Mindful of the political timing, liberal lawmakers stacked a sweeping array of environmental measures on the governor's desk before the close of this year's legislative session -- bills that force Davis to choose between conservationists and some of the state's most powerful special interests.

One measure could halt logging on private land if it pollutes rivers and streams. A top priority of the Sierra Club, it is opposed by the timber industry, which has been a generous campaign donor to Davis.

Other measures would bar cruise ships from discharging sewage and trash in state waters; increase the money people can get back for recycling bottles; place a fee on a polluting chemical used by dry cleaners; make environmental education part of the public school curriculum; and require defense contractors to reveal whether they used the toxic rocket fuel component perchlorate in the last 50 years.

Many of the top candidates running to replace Davis have staked out aggressively pro-environment stands, putting pressure on Davis to clarify his conservationist credentials. In past elections, Davis faced conservative Republicans who did not make environmental protection a vital part of their platform.

Green Party candidate Peter Camejo and independent Arianna Huffington are appealing to environmentalists with their support of solar energy and opposition to gas-guzzling SUVs. Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger has tapped conservationist Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a cousin of his wife, Maria Shriver, to help forge an agenda attractive to environmentally conscious voters. It includes support for strict logging limits in the Sierra Nevada and controls on carbon dioxide emissions from cars and trucks -- positions that pit Schwarzenegger against the Bush administration.

"From our perspective, Gray Davis has been a pretty green governor," said Dan Jacobson, director of Environment California. "But I certainly don't doubt that politics are playing a part. With those positions, if [Schwarzenegger] were running for governor of any other state, he would get endorsements from major environmental groups."

In the past, environmentalists have been tepid supporters of Davis, who has vetoed several measures they have championed -- such as a bill last year to ban low-level radioactive waste from municipal landfills. The legislation was opposed by utilities and biotechnology companies that have been generous contributors to Davis.

But Davis' approach began to shift last year, some environmental leaders said, when the governor received international publicity for signing a trailblazing bill to curb tailpipe emissions of carbon dioxide, a contributor to global warming.

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