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Foes of California's global warming law pour money into a campaign to delay it

Opponents of the law, largely oil firms and conservative activists, miss a signature-gathering target date for putting an initiative on the November ballot, but get a cash infusion to keep trying.

April 19, 2010|By Margot Roosevelt

Oil companies and conservative activists poured nearly $1 million last week into their campaign to place an initiative on the November ballot that would delay enforcement of California's global warming law.

The effort, which also sought to enlist “tea party” activists, came as organizers failed to meet their original goal of gathering the 433,000 necessary signatures by Friday.

But with the infusion of $930,000 to pay signature gatherers, bringing the total to $1.9 million, "We will all do what it takes to win," said Assemblyman Dan Logue (R-Marysville), an initiative backer.

"This will be an epic battle like no other between environmental extremism and job growth."

Initiative opponents reported raising $637,500, $500,000 of it from the Green Tech Action Fund, an offshoot of the Energy Foundation, a San Francisco nonprofit.

The initiative, which would delay restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions until statewide unemployment drops to 5.5%, highlights deep divisions over the state’s economic future. Proponents say that AB 32, the climate law, will cost jobs, boost electricity bills and push companies out of the state.

But advocates of the law, led by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, say it will fuel growth in renewable energy, electric vehicles and other innovative enterprises.

The climate law "is an economic opportunity," said Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), a coauthor of AB 32. "Over the last few years, we have seen nearly $900 million in green-tech venture capital invested in our state. If AB 32 is taken away, these new jobs will dry up."

Under the law, the state must slash its greenhouse gas emissions by 15% by 2020. Scientists say the gases collecting in the atmosphere are disrupting the global climate and affecting water supplies, sea level and agriculture in California.

Los Angeles' Occidental Petroleum, the state's second-biggest oil producer, contributed $300,000 to the campaign last week. "Implementing AB 32 in the teeth of the most significant recession in the last 60 years would be foolhardy," said spokesman Richard Kline.

Under a cap-and-trade program envisioned under the law, he said, "Oxy would be forced to reduce production or purchase costly offsets."

Industries that produce a disproportionate amount of the state's health-damaging air pollutants, such as refineries, power plants and cement kilns, would be most affected by the law.

Among the initiative's biggest funders are Texas refinery giants Valero Energy Corp. ($500,000) and Tesoro Corp. ($200,000), which also operate gasoline stations in California.

Valero also is a leader in the effort to stymie national climate legislation under debate in Congress. Initiative backers hope that delaying the nation's first comprehensive climate law will slow momentum on a federal bill.

"California people are outraged at the fact that Texas oil companies . . . are coming to California and trying to change laws and policies in California," Schwarzenegger told reporters recently.

But in a letter to the California Air Resources Board last month, Schwarzenegger signaled that the state would compromise with industry opponents by ramping up the law's requirements slowly, distributing permits for greenhouse gas emissions for free at first, rather than auctioning them. That "carefully phased" approach, he wrote, would be "sensitive to the challenges businesses face."

Working Assets, a San Francisco telephone company that supports environmental causes, and the Los Angeles-based Courage Campaign have launched a boycott of the state's Valero gas stations, as well as stations operating under the Beacon, Diamond Shamrock and Tesoro labels, affiliated with initiative funders. "Don't let Big Oil decide your future," urges the opponents' website, NoOnValero.com.

Last week, a Missouri-based nonprofit, the Adam Smith Foundation, also surfaced as a major funder of the initiative, with a $498,000 contribution. The group describes itself as "committed to promoting conservative principles and individual liberties in Missouri."

margot.roosevelt

@latimes.com

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