SAN FRANCISCO — With his popularity lagging, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger seized center stage at a United Nations conference in June 2005 by unfurling an ambitious plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the most populous state.
"As of today," he said, "California is going to be the leader in the fight against global warming."
By standing against climate change, the Republican governor set himself apart from the Bush administration and laid claim to a central environmental issue in his reelection effort.
"It was a key symbolic step ... that inoculated him against one of the major strategies [his opposition] had: linking him to President Bush and the skepticism the administration has about ... whether global warming is real," said Bruce Cain, director of UC Berkeley's Institute of Governmental Studies.
Three days later, Schwarzenegger's Democratic would-be successor, state Treasurer Phil Angelides, told the same conference of his own efforts to protect the planet by steering billions of dollars in public pension money to clean technology, renewable energy projects and developments that would avert urban sprawl.
"California should own this industry," Angelides said, "so we can have a clean environment and the high-wage, high-skill jobs to power our economy."
The episode captures a basic distinction between the environmental records and styles of the leading gubernatorial candidates in the Nov. 7 election.
The pro-business Hummer aficionado and former movie star has used his office to undertake high-profile initiatives for air quality and the protection of ocean and forestland, while critics grumble that his less visible actions sometimes have belied his lofty words.
The state treasurer, a hybrid-driving former developer who has bumped heads with conservationists, has employed the financial clout of two of the nation's largest pension funds -- with far less fanfare -- to establish himself as a "green" investor.
"The environment is an issue which voters have told us consistently is very important in deciding [how] to vote for major public offices such as governor," said Mark Baldassare, research director at the Public Policy Institute of California.
While Schwarzenegger has been running on the record he fashioned since ousting Gov. Gray Davis in the recall three years ago, his campaign has portrayed Angelides as a scofflaw former developer.
Angelides was cited by federal officials in 1987 for illegally filling wetlands for a development. He eventually agreed to create other wetlands as mitigation.
When Angelides and his partners proposed two housing projects in Sacramento a decade later, the City Council approved a plan he pushed for providing alternative habitat for two endangered species. But environmental groups successfully sued the federal government to block permits for the developments.
After Angelides was elected treasurer in 1998, a compromise negotiated without his involvement set aside habitat, and the developments were built.
Angelides said he built innovative projects that minimized traffic, pollution and effects on wildlife. "Any time you're in business, there are going to be areas of disagreement, and any time you do new things, there always are going to be critics," he said.
As state treasurer, Angelides has headed boards overseeing state employee and teacher retirement funds.
"I began thinking about ways our pension funds could make investments that would ... return solid yields at the same time we
In February 2004, he inaugurated his Green Wave initiative, calling on the two state retirement systems to put $1.5 billion into companies with sound environmental practices and into new technologies.
Angelides' action made California a leader in "green" investments, said Mindy Lubber, head of Ceres, a Boston-based coalition that promotes socially responsible institutional investment.
During Schwarzenegger's first year in office, environmental groups told him he could build a powerful legacy. Warner Chabot, vice president of the Ocean Conservancy, presented the governor with a doctored photo of Mt. Rushmore that showed Schwarzenegger's face in place of President Theodore Roosevelt's.
Schwarzenegger later established a series of marine preserves between Santa Barbara and Half Moon Bay -- about 18% of the ocean waters under state control. Chabot called his ocean policies "bold, visionary and substantial."
Other conservationists, however, have criticized many of the governor's appointments.
"Arnold Schwarzenegger is a master communicator," said Mary Nichols, head of the UCLA Institute of the Environment and former resources secretary under Davis. "But the action has not matched the rhetoric."
In 2005, the governor outraged environmentalists by naming former industry lobbyist Cindy Tuck as head of the Air Resources Board. The state Senate refused to confirm her.