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Global warming: Judge softens Proposition 23 ballot language

August 3, 2010 |  4:02 pm

A Sacramento judge Tuesday softened the ballot description of Proposition 23, a November initiative to suspend the state’s sweeping global warming law. Proponents of the initiative called the ruling “a tremendous victory,” but initiative opponents dismissed it as “cosmetic.”

Language drafted by Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown referred to “major polluters,” which the judge changed to “sources of emissions.” The judge also narrowed the wording of the title from “suspends air pollution control laws” to “suspends implementation of air pollution control law (AB 32).” The Brown language had in the initiative summary that it would require the state to “abandon” the law, which the judge changed to “suspend.”

When it comes to voting on a slew of complex ballot initiatives, California voters can be swayed by the title and summary printed on their ballots -- which is why the cases about language often end up in court.

Prop. 23 would delay AB 32, California’s 2006 law to slash the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. Scientists say that emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases have begun to disrupt Earth's climate, drying up water supplies from melting snow-packs, causing sea level to rise and spurring heat waves. The law aims to slash emissions from transportation, industry and other sources by about 15% below today’s level by 2020.

The lawsuit was brought by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn., whose chairman, Jon Coupal, is chairman of the Yes on 23 campaign, which is principally funded by oil companies. The global warming law could cost oil companies millions of dollars by forcing them to clean up refinery emissions. It could also spur replacement of gasoline and natural gas with alternative fuels.

Prop. 23 opponents, including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, environmental groups and alternative energy companies, say that delaying implementation of the law would cost jobs in the fast-growing clean tech industry, and allow refineries, power plants and other polluting industries to avoid controls. Proponents say the delay would save jobs and avoid high energy costs.

The change ordered by Judge Timothy Frawley (PDF) “doesn’t change the essence at all,” Brown said in an interview. “I don’t see that this will affect voter’s decisions. It remains clear that we are talking about the suspension of laws relating to pollution.”

However, Anita Mangels, a spokeswoman for the Yes on 23 committee, said that by specifying AB 32, rather than “air pollution control laws” generally, the new language is “much clearer now that this is not a blanket repeal of every anti-pollution measure the state of California has ever enacted.“

As amended, the new title would read: "Suspends implementation of air pollution control law (AB 32) requiring major sources of emissions to report and reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming until unemployment drops to 5.5% for less for one full year."

The new summary would read: Suspends state law that requires greenhouse gas emissions be reduced to 1990 levels by 2020, until California's unemployment drops to 5.5% or less for hour consecutive quarters. Suspends comprehensive greenhouse-gas-reduction program that includes increased renewable energy and cleaner fuel requirements, and mandatory emissions reporting and fee requirements for major emissions sources such as power plants and oil refineries..."

Campaign reports released Monday showed each side has raised about $3 million so far, more than any other proposition on the November ballot. Oil companies are the major backers of the initiative, with environmental groups and clean tech investors contributing to a campaign to oppose it.

-- Margot Roosevelt

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