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California, As Policy Leader: Energy Wars

by Francie Grace

Friday, April 9th, 2010

Republicans and Democrats agree on this much: California has been a leader in environmental initiatives. Four years ago, it passed a carbon emissions law, and that's been seen as a model for the energy and climate change legislation that Congress has been trying to craft and approve. So it's not a local matter when California starts arguing about energy, and some of the biggest dogs in those fights aren't even from California.

Three Texas-based oil companies, for example, are providing what the AP describes as "the bulk of" the funding behind a petition drive for a referendum that would delay enforcement of the law until California's 12.5 percent jobless rate drops to 5.5 percent and stays there for a year. They're joined in the campaign by other businesses, taxpayer groups and critics who doubt claims that the law will create 10,000 green jobs and instead worry about unknowns from costs to consumers and businesses, with fears of job losses from cash-strapped employers and others who could move out of state.

Meanwhile in L.A., another battle's raging, this one over a push for a large electricity rate hike justified as needed to finance a shift from coal to generating more power from renewable sources such as wind and sun. Regardless of how either one of these showdowns turns out, the real issue is: most people don't have a clear idea of the benefits and tradeoffs of various energy policies, even those which have already been adopted. So that means any consensus that appears to exist - as when California's emissions law was passed – may be shaky, especially when economic pressure is applied.

A new survey from Gallup underscored that - as for the first time in that survey, energy development pulled ahead of environmental protection as a public priority. Our Energy Learning Curve™ survey found support for a lot of alternatives, as well as a reluctance to force people to either change their ways or pay more for not changing.

The problem is: energy issues - which include availability, economic and national security, climate change and the environment - are not short term issues. We need to match our long-term strategy with some long-term solutions, and those aren't going to take hold unless the public is fully involved in the discussion over what tradeoffs and choices we're willing to make.

This is a problem that everyone can do something about, and the first step is becoming an informed consumer. A good place to start is Who Turned Out the Lights: Your Guided Tour to the Energy Crisis; we also recommend our Energy & Environment resource list; the Citizen's Survival Kit; and our Choicework Discussion Starter guide to Climate Change.



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