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In 2006, the California state government passed AB 32, which committed California to a leadership role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating climate change. AB 32 set a goal of reducing greenhouse gas levels to 1990 levels by 2020. Starting in 2012, greenhouse gas emissions will be reported and heavy polluters will be charged through the cap-and-trade system. Cap-and-trade would penalize polluting companies and would allocate the pollution fee to renewable energy and other environmentally focused programs.
Yes, polluting companies will pass on some of this cost to consumers, but studies indicate the additional cost is minimal — $300 per household per year. A similar program was used in the 1990’s to reduce the pollutants from power plants, and was considered a successful, fiscally conservative strategy for reducing harmful air pollution.
Propositions 23 and 26 are both cleverly designed to cripple AB 32. Proposition 23 “temporarily” freezes AB 32 until the unemployment rate is below 5.5 percent for 4 consecutive quarters (one year). The wording of this proposition deceives the voter in two ways:
First, linking AB 32 to the unemployment rate plants the idea that mitigating global warming would cause even greater unemployment and economic problems. In fact, the opposite is true. Right now, 500,000 Californians have “green jobs.” And the clean-tech jobs sector is growing five times faster than the rest of the job market. AB 32 — with its commitment to greenhouse gas emission reduction — would accelerate the pace of this job growth. However, voting “yes” on Proposition 23 would slow this job growth and would show green entrepreneurs that California is not the place to set up their businesses.
The second fallacy is that 5.5 percent unemployment for four consecutive quarters is clearly not an achievable goal. The current unemployment rate is around 12 percent. Over the last 30-40 years, the unemployment rate has briefly dipped below 5.5 percent, maybe three or four times, never for a full year. Tesoro and Valero, the oil companies behind Prop 23, have cleverly set up conditions that sound plausible, but are clearly never going to happen.
Proposition 26 is even more confusing, and the arguments for it are far more deceptive. Prop 26 requires a two-thirds legislative majority in order to penalize companies that pollute or endanger health and public safety. Compared to a simple majority vote, Proposition 26 makes it much more difficult to penalize offending companies. In effect, Proposition 26 would shift the cost of the company’s pollution from the company itself to California taxpayers.
The proponents of Prop 26, however, make it sound like Prop 26 protects taxpayers from “hidden taxes.” This could not be further from the truth. Prop 26 protects polluters from penalty fees, forcing taxpayers to cover the cost of their wrongdoing. A bill that claims to be closing a tax loophole is in fact letting oil, tobacco, and alcohol companies off the hook for their societal damage and costing taxpayers around $1 billion per year.
We must decisively stop Propositions 23 and 26 and send a clear signal: California supports innovative green start-ups, not corporate polluters. In order to attract green entrepreneurs and encourage further job growth in the clean-tech industry, California must first demonstrate a commitment to environmental protection and the mitigation of climate change.
I can’t vote yet — I’m only 16. But I wanted to make my voice heard by offering clear explanations of Propositions 23 and 26. If you support environmental protection and the creation of entrepreneurial green jobs, please vote “no” on both Proposition 23 and Proposition 26 next Tuesday.
Ryan Mann is a junior at La Jolla High School.