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Schwarzenegger's environmental legacy: green or 'olive-drab'?

December 29, 2010 | 12:45 pm

Arnolglobe2 Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's long effort to cast himself in the role of a national environmental champion is losing luster in the waning weeks of his administration, as green groups protest last-minute deals with polluting businesses.

"How green is he?" asked Bill Magavern, the Sierra Club's California director. "We came to the conclusion that he's olive-drab."

How many disappointments in the eyes of environmentalists? Let them count the ways:

  • The California Air Resources Board's Dec. 16 decision to ignore its own board of economic advisors and give carbon pollution allowances to industry for free, rather than auction them from the start of its global-warming cap-and-trade program.
  • Allowing the carbon trading program to include complex forest offsets that permit heavy industry to avoid some carbon curbs by paying timber companies to stretch out the timetables for clear-cutting forests.
  • The air board's Dec. 17 decision to roll back its first-in-the-nation crackdown on diesel soot in existing trucks and construction equipment. The new rules lift an earlier requirement for filters on backhoes, graders, large forklifts, front-loaders and other machines, extending the retirement date for most of the 150,000-engine fleet to 2023. The filter requirement would also be lifted for medium-sized trucks, but retained for school buses and the heaviest trucks, beginning in 2014.
  • The loosening of the state's proposed Green Chemistry regulations under a precedent-setting law to remove toxic chemicals from retail products. The action prompted 33 environmental, health and community groups to warn that the new rules are "so ineffective and burdensome that they should be jettisoned altogether."
  • The fast-tracking of regulations to allow agribusiness to use the pesticide methyl iodide, despite a finding from the Department of Pesticide Regulation that the chemical "could result in significant health risks for [farm] workers and the general population." 

Schwarzenegger spokesmen and appointees vigorously defend the governor's record -- as has the governor himself. "We have led the nation in developing green policies," he said after the recent adoption of the cap-and-trade program, the most comprehensive in the country. "And we have seen our green economy grow as a result."

Mary D. Nichols, chairman of the air board, described California's carbon-trading program, which will cover 600 of the state's biggest industrial plants, as "cautious and careful but within the context of a very bold effort." And the diesel rules, the only ones in the nation that apply to existing equipment, will halve soot emissions in the state in four years, officials said.

RELATED:

Environmentalists deplore Schwarzenegger's corporate turn

Forest offsets: Chiapas to California

Arnold's climate summit: a final hot-air fest?

Strawberry pesticide targeted by environmentalists, farmworkers

-- Margot Roosevelt

Photo: Arnold Schwarzenegger's green image -- as in this 2007 Newsweek cover story -- has often been brighter in the national media than it has in his own state, where his policies are more scrutinized. Credit: PR Newsfoto / Newsweek

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