POLITICS:

Drive to delay Calif. climate law may be stuck in neutral

SAN FRANCISCO -- An election-year push to suspend California's climate change law appears to be struggling amid rumors that supporters are having trouble raising enough money to gather the signatures needed to place the issue on the November ballot.

The brains behind the initiative in the state Assembly, Republican Dan Logue, recently told the Los Angeles Times that his campaign had $600,000 available to fund the signature-gathering operation, which requires 433,000 signatures by April 16 to qualify for the general election. His measure as currently drafted would repeal the law, A.B. 32, until the state's unemployment rate dips to 5.5 percent.

But many close to the process, including an ally of Logue, say the effort has flagged in recent weeks and has yet to begin gathering signatures with about two months left until the deadline. Ted Costa, an anti-tax activist at the People's Advocate and a co-drafter of the suspension measure, admitted in an interview that cash is desperately needed, and others said they suspect Logue's claim of $600,000 in the bank was wishful thinking.

"If you have an extra $100,000 laying around, send it over," Costa said. "Anybody that's got money, we'd like it."

Further complicating the drive was a decision last week by Attorney General Jerry Brown, the leading Democratic candidate to be the next governor, to revise the ballot initiative to reflect his interpretation of its intent. Logue and company had filed their measure with the attorney general's office as the "California Jobs Initiative," but Brown, who has the authority to rename ballot measures, decided to go his own way.

Brown cooks up an unappetizing title

Brown's revised title is this: "Suspends Air Pollution Control Laws Requiring Major Polluters to Report and Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions That Cause Global Warming Until Unemployment Drops Below Specified Level for Full Year."

That means any attempt to gather signatures would have to present that mouthful to prospective signers. The drafters of the measure have the right to sue Brown to change the title, but that would create further delays while attorneys battle it out in court.

"Is somebody even going to sign a petition that says 'major polluters' in the title? Probably not," said Steve Maviglio, a spokesman for a coalition of industry and environmental groups that supports A.B. 32. "I think they're going to have an extremely difficult time."

The difficulty in raising money appears to have caught the suspension drive off guard. The drive has also run into tactical disagreements among the lead supporters. On the surface, the likely cost of A.B. 32 compliance would seem to attract funds from industry, but the biggest emitters in California have so far remained distant.

Potential funders sit on wallets

Officials for California's three investor-owned utilities all refused to take a position on the initiative. One executive, Mike Niggli, the chief operating officer of San Diego Gas & Electric, said the utility was too busy preparing to comply with the law to concern itself with suspension.

"I think the state wants to implement A.B. 32, and we as a utility essentially don't make that policy; we are the ones that are going to implement it," Niggli said. "From our standpoint, we're sort of neutral on that ... we've got lots on our plate right now with A.B. 32 implementation."

More surprising might be the lack of financial support from refiners and cement manufacturers, which would both have to dig deep to meet the A.B. 32 greenhouse gas emissions targets to 1990 levels by 2020, starting in 2012. Costa said those sectors have been contacted, apparently without much success.

"I would hope they would give contributions," said Costa, who refused to answer questions about which companies had been contacted. "You'll be able to see [the contributors] as soon as anyone else" when they're posted on the Internet, he told E&E.

Pro-climate law crowd is energized

On the other side of the battle lines, financial support would likely come from Silicon Valley heavyweights like Google Inc., wealthy venture capitalists with big stakes in clean energy firms, and leading recyclers like Waste Management, which is based in Houston but operates throughout California.

Opposition would be just as intense in political circles, beginning with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), who views A.B. 32 as a key part of his legacy. The state's Democratic Senate delegation and powerful regulators like Mary Nichols, who heads the California Air Resources Board, have made statements recently indicating the suspension effort should be taken seriously, not dismissed as some sort of right-wing agitation.

Maviglio, whose public relations firm has been hired to handle press for the pro-A.B. 32 group "Californians for Clean Energy and Jobs," says those behind the ballot measure are already nearing failure because as April 16 approaches, signatures will tend to get more costly as a percentage of total expenditure.

"Collecting signatures usually goes for about $1.50 a signature, but toward the end, it will be about $4.00," he said, noting that upward of 60 ballot measures are in play this year. "The clock is ticking louder and louder."

But others are still worried and have stressed that environmental groups, to name one set of interests, should heed lessons learned in Massachusetts' special Senate election this year and during the 2008 fight over Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in California.

Jenesse Miller, communications director for the California League of Conservation Voters, said conservatives across the country could view the A.B. 32 suspension effort as a litmus test for defeating state-backed climate regulations, if it gets on the ballot. The same dynamic was evident during the fight over Prop 8, when out-of-state forces came into California to oppose gay rights groups.

"This becomes a bully pulpit for the right wing in the rest of the country," Miller said. "They said, 'If we can take down gay rights in California, we can take it down anywhere.' The same could happen with climate change."

Up next is a decision by Logue and company on whether they'll challenge Brown's ballot title in court. The Facebook page for the California Jobs Initiative calls the title "egregious" and says the campaign is considering its options, while Logue himself insisted the group does have committed funds and is pressing ahead to get more money.

“We’re doing our best,” Logue said.

Reporter Debra Kahn contributed.