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Will Texas oil firms succeed in undoing California greenhouse gas laws?

Texas oil firms are backing a ballot initiative that would repeal the state's landmark 2006 greenhouse-gas reduction law. The mayor of Los Angeles is rallying Hispanic groups against the initiative.

By Daniel B. WoodStaff writer / September 1, 2010



Los Angeles

A bit of a propaganda war is heating up in California over Proposition 23, a citizen’s initiative which could suspend the state’s landmark greenhouse gas reduction law.

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Backed by manufacturers and Texas oil companies Valero and Tesoro, the ballot initiative would halt enforcement of the 2006 emissions law, AB32, until California unemployment, now over 12 percent, sinks to 5.5 percent for at least a year. Backers of the "California Jobs Initiative" say it is necessary to protect Californians from untimely financial hardship.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa took the offensive this week with a press conference designed to spotlight the issue. “Go home, Texas oil companies," Mayor Villaraigosa urged at a Tuesday news conference aimed at encouraging voters to oppose Prop. 23. Claiming that “more Californians will get sick if Prop. 23 passes,” Villaraigosa framed the fight as money vs. public health. "We won't compromise our environmental and health standards so you can make more money," he said.

The mayor surrounded himself with activists from Latino neighborhoods who released a statement saying that Prop. 23 “will hurt low-income communities and people of color first and worst," and called for the mobilization of voters from low-income areas. They circulated a four-page report laying out the environmental violations and fines assessed against the two companies.

But Prop. 23 supporters have since gone on the offensive, releasing a point-by-point rebuttal to the points brought forth.

“These claims might be effective scare tactics, but they have nothing to do with Prop. 23,” says Anita Mangels, communications director for the group behind the initiative. She points out that according to the California Air Resources Board (CARB), greenhouse gas emissions – the ones that AB32 is intended to reduce – have no direct public health effects. “They are trying to mislead communities of color for political gain,” she says.

With unemployment at nearly 17 percent among blacks, and nearly 15 percent for Latinos, Ms. Mangels says implementation of the law will increase fuel and utility costs by billions of dollars and eliminate more than a million jobs.

The oil companies say the mayor can ill afford to be so blunt with companies that employ 1,600 Californians with an annual payroll of $122 million.

“I am puzzled why a mayor of a large city suffering from unemployment would be telling us to go home,” says Bill Day, spokesman for Valero Energy. “Our headquarters are in Texas, but this is our home as well. We’ve been paying a lot of taxes in this city for a long time.”

Tax groups question the wisdom of trying to mobilize a force to push major employers from the embattled state.

“Perhaps the mayor would like to tell us where people are supposed to work after he has chased from the state all businesses he deems politically incorrect,” says Kris Vosburgh, executive director of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. “Businesses are already fleeing the state due to high taxes and over-regulation....”

If the claims that pollution hits Latino communities harder are erroneous, at least some are buying the argument.

“Lax pollution rules and purposeful skirting of regulations hurt low-income Latino communities who live in neighborhood zones notorious for over pollution, says Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA). "These companies think they can get away with it in these communities.”

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