California voters soundly voted down Proposition 23 on Tuesday night by 61 percent as of press time, with 47 percent of precincts reporting.
Prop 23, largely backed by two Texas oil companies, Valero and Tesoro, sought to suspend California’s AB 32 law, which was signed into law in 2006 and requires that state greenhouse gas emission levels be lowered to 1990 levels by 2020.
Prop 23, had it passed, would have postponed implementation of AB 32’s regulations until the statewide unemployment rate — currently at 12.4 percent — dropped below 5.5 percent.
“It’s great that Prop 23 failed,” said public policy professor Joe Nation, co-author of AB 32. “It means California will march forward, not backward.”
Nation said that had the proposition prevailed, it would have set the state back and hurt the morale of those working for climate and energy change. He said that an acquaintance of his who worked in climate policy said, “If this passes, businesses and opportunities to reduce greenhouse gases will disappear and no one will want to get involved.”
Proponents of the proposition argued that the state’s weak economy couldn’t handle further regulations on businesses, but Nation said that tying the environment to the economy was less than helpful.
“It was the only move they could make,” he said. “They saw the opportunity to blame the economy on AB 32, but the great irony is that most provisions of AB 32 have not yet been implemented.”
Proposition 23 was trailing in the polls before Election Day, and Nation said he was “always confident that Prop 23 would fail.”
Student sustainability and climate groups on campus spent the weeks leading up to the election campaigning against the proposition and helping with voter registration drives.
“This is a huge win, and we’re very excited to have been a part of the campaign,” said Molly Oshun ’11, president of Students for a Sustainable Stanford (SSS). SSS participated in phone banks and voter education, while Stanford Solar and Wind Energy Project (SWEP) also helped with voter registration.
Oshun said that California, as the first state to have passed and upheld a law like AB 32, will be viewed by the rest of the country as an example of greenhouse gas regulation.
“There’s no question that all eyes will be on California in the next few years to see how it goes,” she said.
“California’s the only state with legislation to control CO2 in the future,” said SWEP president John Ten Hoeve, a doctoral student in environmental engineering. “If the proposition had passed, it would have hindered other states’ efforts to enact similar legislation.”
Both Oshun and Ten Hoeve said that California’s overturn of the proposition was an uplifting action.
“It’s hugely encouraging to see people focusing on the environment even in times of economic trouble,” Oshun said.
Concerns over the cost of AB 32’s implementation aren’t without basis, however.
“The fact is, it’ll probably cost a bit upfront but will benefit the state long-term,” Nation said.