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Oil company initiative qualifies for California ballot

June 22, 2010 |  6:24 pm
An oil industry measure to postpone enforcement of California’s 2006 global warming law qualified for the November ballot Tuesday, setting up what promises to be a nationally watched struggle over the future of renewable energy.

The initiative, launched six months ago by Texas oil giants Valero Energy Inc. and Tesoro Corp., comes as the oil industry has fallen under intense scrutiny in the wake of the gulf oil spill disaster.

California’s law, by limiting greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles, oil refineries and other industries, has already begun to create a huge market for solar, wind and other clean energy sources in the nation’s most populous state -- an effort that could falter if the initiative passes.

Under pending regulations, the law, AB 32, would require that a third of the state’s electricity come from renewable sources by 2020, up from less than a quarter today.

Proponents are calling their measure “The California Jobs Initiative” and painting the climate law as “an energy tax.” The initiative would halt enforcement of the law until unemployment in the state, now over 12%, sinks to 5.5% for at least a year.

“AB 32 will impose billions of dollars in higher utility rates and fuel prices on California families when they can least afford it,” said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn. and co-chair of the initiative campaign.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger lashed back, saying, “This initiative sponsored by greedy Texas oil companies would cripple California’s fastest-growing economic sector, reverse our renewable energy policy and decimate our environmental progress for the benefit of these oil companies’ profit margins."

He added, "I will not allow this to happen on my watch."

Proponents of the measure spent $3 million, of which more than two thirds was contributed by the two Texas companies and other energy interests, to gather more than 800,000 signatures to place the measure on the ballot. To qualify, the initiative needed 433,971 signatures, equal to 5% of the ballots cast in the 2006 general election.

“The Texas oil companies think if they can kill their clean energy competition in California, they can do it everywhere,” said Steve Maviglio, a spokesman for opponents who call their organization “Californians for Clean Energy and Jobs.”

Valero, which owns several California refineries, has mounted an aggressive campaign against federal efforts to pass climate legislation, including a House bill that was modeled in part on California’s law. Environmentalists acknowledge that postponing California’s rules to limit greenhouse gases could damage the chances of any federal legislation.

-- Margot Roosevelt

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