Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer said Friday that rival Carly Fiorina's recent embrace of a November ballot measure that would roll back the state's landmark global warming law was evidence that the Republican was "in the pocket of big oil" and "dirty coal."
With California's unemployment rate at 12.3%, the three-term senator and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown have argued that the state's 2006 global warming law, which would cut greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels over the next decade, will play a crucial role in creating jobs and stimulating the green energy sector in California.
The ballot measure, which has been largely bankrolled by three oil companies based outside of California, would suspend the law until unemployment reaches 5.5% for a year — a rare occurrence historically. If Proposition 23 succeeds, Boxer argued Friday, California would lose its edge in industries such as wind and solar to other nations.
The Democratic candidates clearly intend to use the issue to argue that their rivals are not as concerned about environmental protection, an area of importance to many independent voters. Fiorina and Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman have said they are deeply concerned that the state's law could lead to the loss of jobs.
Whitman has yet to announce a position on the November measure. Fiorina backed it last week after refusing in a debate with Boxer two days earlier to take a position.
After touring a solar company in Palm Desert on Friday, Boxer chided Fiorina for her stance.
"She is now doing what she did when she was Hewlett Packard's CEO, she's creating jobs in China," Boxer said, referring to HP jobs that were moved overseas during Fiorina's tenure. "Because I can tell you right now if this [Proposition 23] happens and there's no law underpinning what we're doing here, all those jobs will go to China."
Fiorina spoke about her support for the ballot measure Friday while campaigning in Marin County before a "tea party" audience. When pressed by a questioner about why she'd waited so long to express her position, Fiorina said she'd wanted to release her stands on all the ballot propositions at one time and hadn't had a chance to study them before the debate.
The state's global warming law "isn't the right answer," Fiorina said in Mill Valley. Instead, she said, Congress should pass "a national, rational energy policy" that motivates innovation in "clean, green" technologies as well as "environmentally responsible exploration and exploitation of every source of energy that we have."
Both she and former EBay chief Whitman have cited economic studies showing that the state's global warming law could cost jobs in the short term. But a July survey by the Public Policy Institute of California found that most Californians did not share that concern. Forty-five percent of Californians said the state's effort to curb global warming would create jobs, 23% said it would result in fewer jobs and 24% said the number of jobs would remain the same.
Whitman has advocated delaying implementation of the global warming law for a year — a tool available to the governor under current law. State Atty. Gen. Brown, who served as governor from 1975 to 1983, criticized Whitman in a recent interview for taking "multiple positions" on climate change and the state's global warming law. "We'd like to know where she stands," he said.
Speaking last week at a City of Commerce plant that manufactures sheet metal for energy-efficient retrofitting, Brown said the state's law "puts California in the forefront, nationally and globally."
"It's energy independence, it's protecting our health and of course it's dealing with the threat of climate change."
Times staff writer Seema Mehta contributed to this report.