The Mark UP

California Voters Say Yes to Clean Energy and to Ending Budget Gridlock

In back-to-back hits to Texas, one day after the San Francisco Giants beat the Rangers, California voters delivered a second great triumph, voting to safeguard the state’s booming clean energy economy by defeating Proposition 23 and saying no to dirty Texas oil.

There were nine measures on the statewide November ballot and NRDC took positions on four of them: we supported Propositions 21 and 25, and opposed Propositions 23 and 26.

Proposition 23 was the largest public referendum in history on climate and clean energy policy, with
almost 10 million voters, and is a decisive victory for California’s clean energy future. The measure was rejected by almost a two to one margin, with over 61 percent voting against Proposition 23. NRDC and a broad bipartisan coalition of environmental and public health advocates, businesses, labor unions, the NAACP, Latino organizations, community groups, utilities, consumers — and yes, even some oil companies – fought Proposition 23 together. This coalition represents the new face of the environmental movement and promises a clean energy future for California. We will continue to work together to foster policies that provide multiple benefits, including a prosperous economy and improved public health.

Voters also passed Proposition 25, which will help end budget gridlock by allowing passage of a state budget with a simple majority vote rather than the two-thirds vote currently required. Budget gridlock and the supermajority budget vote requirement was threatening the very foundation of state government; in recent years, a handful of legislators have been able to hold the entire state budget hostage as they pushed to weaken or repeal critical environmental policies in exchange for their budget votes.

Then voters turned around and voted for Proposition 26, a measure funded by oil, alcohol and tobacco interests that will make the budget harder to balance, again. It will shift the cost of public health and environmental damages caused by companies from those responsible to taxpayers and create another $1
billion hole in the state budget. This was a short sighted measure, but this vote will not stop California’s path breaking climate program. Mary Nichols, Chair of the State Air Resources Board which is responsible for
carrying out AB 32 said this morning that “Prop 26 does not impair the scoping plan adopted in 2008 or any regulations developed under that plan. AB 32 is on track, with renewed vigor thanks to the resounding defeat of Prop 23 by the voters.”

Proposition 21, went down to a surprising defeat given the popularity of our state parks. This measure would have helped keep our state parks accessible to all and fund sorely needed maintenance.

The defeat of Proposition 23 is much more far-reaching in its significance and impact than any setbacks on Propositions 21 and 26. This victory on climate and clean energy was particularly significant for the Golden
State and the rest of the nation. In an election when the economy trumped all other issues, including two wars, it is no surprise why. Jobs in California’s clean energy sector have grown 10 times faster than the statewide average over the past five years, and the clean tech sector attracted $9 billion cumulative venture capital investment from 2005 through 2009.

We hope that this campaign will inspire the nation in another way. Proposition 23 was defeated because Californians are devoted to pragmatism and compromise rather than inflexible ideology. We’ve done it in the
past by passing the nation’s most progressive air and water quality laws – regulations that consequently served as models for other states and the federal government.

As we celebrate a victory for common sense, it’s more clear than ever that working together is what makes us stronger. We need the great technical expertise, brain power and vast capital resources of businesses, the
workforce of unions, the reach of diverse community groups and the wide sweep of public and private partners to make an efficient transition to the coming clean energy economy. And sooner or later, we will all work together for the common good. We have no other choice.