This report is from the Washington-based National Journal magazine, dated July 3. FREMONT, Calif. — From a nondescript office park here, Solaria, a solar energy company founded in 2000, is planning its move this fall to a much larger facility nearby as it progresses from research and design to full-scale production of its innovative photovoltaic panels. Solaria’s growth symbolizes an economic transformation that is reshaping the state’s political landscape as California approaches a showdown over climate policy that could rattle the national energy debate. In 2006, the Democratic Legislature passed, and Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed, a pioneering law mandating ambitious reductions in the emission of carbon dioxide and other gases linked to global climate change. That law is scheduled to take effect in 2012. But last week, an alliance of business and conservative groups qualified an initiative for the November ballot to suspend the law until state unemployment drops below 5.5 percent for four consecutive quarters — a standard that California has met only three times in the past three decades. Outside of those three instances, California unemployment hasn’t dipped below 5.5 percent in any other quarter since 1980. That record suggests that the initiative aims more to inter the greenhouse-gas law than to defer it. The California initiative has been bankrolled primarily by two Texas oil companies (Valero and Tesoro). But California groups representing manufacturers and small businesses are also behind it. “The last thing a small-business owner needs now is a new and onerous mandate,” insists John Kabateck, executive director for the state’s National Federation of Independent Business. If California votes to shelve its climate law, the outcome could intimidate politicians around the country and set back prospects of national action on climate change for many years. Predictably, environmental and public health groups have mobilized to fight the initiative. The twist is that they have been joined by pillars of the Golden State’s business community — from individual companies such as eBay and Google to broad coalitions such as the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, an association of leading high-tech chief executives. So many business leaders have rallied to the law’s defense that the state chamber of commerce, which doggedly fought its initial passage, is remaining neutral on the drive to suspend it.
Politics & Policy