The money behind a campaign to suspend California's landmark climate law and place the proposed delay before voters in November is coming from a pair of refiners based in San Antonio, Texas, according to several well-placed sources in Sacramento.
These sources said two refiners based in San Antonio -- Valero Energy Corp. and Tesoro Corp. -- are the sole funders so far behind a proposed ballot initiative that would bring a temporary halt to A.B. 32, which would cut greenhouse gases across California's economy to 1990 levels by 2020, starting in two years.
Reached in San Antonio, a spokesman for Valero did not deny the assertion, but he did refuse comment, referring further calls to a public relations firm in Sacramento that has been hired by advocates of A.B. 32 suspension. A spokeswoman for the PR firm, Goddard Claussen, also refused comment on the source of funding, but she did confirm that the firm has been retained to handle media and gather signatures to place the measure on the ballot.
Dan Logue, the Republican assemblyman behind the suspension, also refused to discuss where funds had originated. Like Valero, he referred questions to Goddard Claussen.
"They're professionals," he said of the firm. "They're the best in the country, the best in the state."
Both Valero and Tesoro operate two petroleum refiners in California, each representing some of the heaviest carbon emissions in the state. Valero owns refineries in Benicia and Wilmington, while Tesoro runs plants in Martinez and Los Angeles.
Officials at Tesoro did not return calls seeking comment.
Signature collection phase opens
The good news for Logue, who had been having trouble raising funds, is that his proposed initiative formally moved into the signature gathering phase as of yesterday.
His measure requires 435,000 signatures to qualify for the general election ballot. It would repeal A.B. 32 until the state's unemployment rate dips to 5.5 percent.
In a brief interview, Logue said that while he is still a key figure in the process, Goddard Claussen has taken over running the campaign and gathering signatures under a group called the California Jobs Initiative. The spokeswoman at the firm, Jenny Dudikoff, said she expects the signatures to be ready by the first week of June.
Logue described the handoff as necessary given the intense political pressure likely to develop if the issue makes the ballot.
"We're going to the people who know how to run campaigns like this," he said. "They're hammering the process."
But critics of Logue, who has aligned himself with the anti-tax group People's Advocate, charge that the assemblyman is trying to hide the funding when public law requires disclosure when the campaign has raised an initial $50,000. Moreover, environmentalists are angry that refiners based in San Antonio, which is nearly 1,500 miles from Sacramento, appear to be the only companies willing to get behind the push.
"Now voters can see this initiative for what it is: oil companies trying to buy their way out of their clean-up obligations," said Bill Magavern, director of Sierra Club California.
Steven Maviglio, who handles communications for the pro-A.B. 32 effort, said Logue has slow-walked the process when the law requires his group to form a committee with the secretary of state and report contributions.
"They haven't done that, as far as we can tell. They have no record of any contributions," he said. "It appears to me they are trying to do this in a stealth, and possibly illegal, way to hide the oil company backing."
Dudikoff refused to answer further questions about funding. She said the signature collecting phase is now in full swing and defended the measure itself, citing the state's unemployment rate of 12.4 percent. She also said more funds would be coming from other sources as the process unfolds throughout the spring.
"Businesses, consumers and families will be greatly harmed by these additional costly regulations," she said. "The campaign expects support from a broad and diverse coalition of small businesses, taxpayers, individuals and statewide organizations and associations."
Brown jumps into race
A major factor likely to affect the climate fight this year is the race for governor. But Democrat Jerry Brown got into the race yesterday without mentioning the climate suspension effort, instead focusing his initial campaign pitch on the state's collapsed economy and budget mess.
Attorney General Brown, governor from 1975 to 1983, stressed his knowledge of state government and experience in what amounted to his first campaign speech of the season. He cited California's worst-in-the-nation credit rating and said he was the candidate to solve the state's fiscal mess.
"We need someone with insider's knowledge," Brown said, in a swipe at Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, the leading Republican candidate to replace him. "Our state is in serious trouble."
Absent from the speech was a specific mention of the two pillars of California's environmental political scene: climate change and water policy. Brown has long been viewed as an environmental advocate, but with the state suffering from 12 percent unemployment, he did not specifically address either issue.
The omission was not lost on some observers. Shaun Bowler, a professor at the University of California, Riverside, said the economy will be central for Brown as he runs for governor this year, perhaps leaving fights over climate change and an $11 billion water bond further in the background.
"Short term, Brown's candidacy will mean little for green politics," Bowler said. "In any recession, jobs take precedence for all candidates, and this recession is no exception."
Brown's campaign office did not respond to an attempt to attain position statements from the attorney general on the water bond or a proposed ballot measure to suspend the state's climate law, A.B. 32.
Brown seen as A.B. 32 ally
Others close to environmental politics in the state said it was a mistake to make too much of the omission. Republicans are expected to attack A.B. 32 as a jobs killer, and some see that tactic as an opening for Brown if he insists the climate law would counteract unemployment and add green jobs to the economy.
"I think that global warming will be a major issue in the gubernatorial race," Magavern said. "That should be helpful to Brown, because California swing voters want more environmental protection, not less."
Magavern added: "I think the economy is issue 1, 2 and 3, no question ... [but] I think that global warming will present such a contrast between the candidates that it will be an issue."
Officials at the California Republican Party did not return calls.
Sullivan reported from San Francisco.
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