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If Proposition 23 passes, will other greenhouse-gas laws fall?

California's 2008 law to limit greenhouse-gas emissions is seen as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's biggest achievement. If it is undone by Proposition 23, other similar laws could follow, experts say.

By Daniel B. WoodStaff writer / October 19, 2010

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger talks in front of a map showing what areas might be affected by global warming in San Francisco, Dec. 2, 2009. The passage of a global-warming law (also called Assembly Bill 32) in 2008 was seen to be perhaps the greatest accomplishment of Governor Schwarzenegger's regime and the centerpiece of his legacy.

Kim White/Reuters/File


Los Angeles

The results of California's governor's race, its Senate race, and Proposition 19 to legalize marijuana will have reverberations nationwide. But another issue to be decided Nov. 2 in California could have global implications.

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Proposition 23 would suspend the state’s world-renowned global warming law, which requires that by 2020 the state's greenhouse-gas emissions be reduced to 1990 levels – a roughly 25 percent reduction from current estimated emissions.

Its passage in 2008 was seen to be perhaps the greatest accomplishment of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's regime and the centerpiece of his legacy. It brought British Prime Minister Tony Blair, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and other world leaders to California.

“It’s not just the perception of a single initiative that’s at stake here, but rather a key vote that could affect the perception of this generation’s top environmental issue around the world,” says Nabil Nasr, director of the Center for Integrated Manufacturing Studies (CIMS) at Rochester Institute of Technology in New York.

The importance of Prop. 23, say Dr. Nasr and others, is a potential domino effect.

If regulations to rein in carbon dioxide and other planet-heating emissions are thwarted in California, “these dirty-energy interests will ramp up their efforts to stifle new energy policies in Congress and other states,” Gene Karpinsky, president of the League of Conservation Voters, told the Los Angeles Times.

Pro and con

The two Texas-based oil companies behind the initiative – Valero and Tesoro – counter that the proposition makes sense in tough economic times. “We would like voters to know that Proposition 23 is a common-sense approach to protecting California's economy while preserving the state's stringent environmental regulations,” says Bill Day, spokesman for San Antonio-based Valero Energy Corp.

Last week, the Washington-based League of Conservation Voters contributed $1.2 million to the “No” campaign, calling the vote “the single most important race in the country,” said Mr. Karpinski. The initiative would suspend implementation of the global-warming law, also called Assembly Bill 32 (AB 32), until the state’s jobless rate drops below 5.5 percent for more than a year.