California interfaith leaders: Vote no on Prop 23

Voters are becoming increasingly opposed to Proposition 23, the ballot measure that would suspend California’s 2006 global warming law until unemployment drops. Today, hoping to tip the balance even further, a group of religious leaders from across the state encouraged Californians to reject Prop 23 on Election Day.

“Texas oil companies should not be trying to influence air quality standards in California,” said Rev. Canon Sally Bingham, president of California Interfaith Power and Light, the group that organized today’s statement. She was referring to Texas-based oil refiners Valero Energy and Tesoro, which have contributed a combined $8 million to the Yes on 23 campaign. “Attacking California’s clean air laws will result in more children with asthma and more premature deaths due to air pollution,” Bingham said.

Supporters of Prop 23 call it the “California Jobs Initiative.” Opponents call it the “Dirty Energy Proposition.” If approved, Prop 23 would suspend California’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (AB 32) until the state unemployment level stays below 5.5 percent for a full year. AB 32 requires California to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

Rabbi Jonathan Klein, executive director of Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE) and one of three rabbis to sign onto today’s statement, questioned the economic justification for the ballot measure. “We have to lay seeds for the future, and Prop 23 is essentially cutting that future off at the knees,” Klein said. “This is not at all a ‘jobs initiative.’ It really should be labeled a ‘future-jobs-killer initiative.’”

In August, the most recent month for which statistics were available, the California unemployment rate was 12.4 percent, higher than the national rate of 9.5 percent. The state unemployment rate was last at 5.5 percent in Sep. 2007. In the past 20 years, the two stretches of low unemployment (at or below 5.5 percent) coincided with periods of rapid unsustainable economic growth: the dot-com bubble (Feb. 1999 to Jul. 2001) and the housing bubble (Apr. 2005 to Sep. 2007).

Prop 23 has begun to lose support among voters. A recent poll showed that 48 percent of likely voters would vote against it, while 37 percent said they will vote for it, the Los Angeles Times reported. Until late September, voters had been evenly split. The influx of money to the campaign against Prop 23—particularly large contributions coming from Bill Gates, Google co-founder Sergey Brin and others in Silicon Valley—may have helped to move voter opinion.

Those who oppose Prop 23 constantly remind voters that the proposition’s main backers are out-of-state oil companies. “Does anyone really believe that these companies, out of the goodness of their black oil hearts, are spending millions and millions of dollars to protect jobs?” California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was quoted as saying in the Washington Post. “This is like Eva Braun writing a kosher cookbook. It’s not about jobs at all, ladies and gentlemen. It’s about their ability to pollute and thus protect their profits.”

Still, voters are divided, and they’re not the only ones. The Los Angeles Business Journal recently reported differences of opinion on Prop 23 among local chambers of commerce. The chambers that include alternative energy companies—the companies that generate the kinds of green jobs that AB 32 was designed to create—oppose the idea of delaying the greenhouse gas-reduction law. The groups that include manufacturers support Prop 23’s suspension of the law.

The division in the business community seems to have been reflected in the responses to the proposition from the two Republicans running in California’s biggest races this fall. Republican Senate candidate Carly Fiorina initially put off making her position on Prop 23 public; in her one debate with Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer, she refused to answer a question about the measure. She came out in favor of the proposition two days later. And when gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman weighed in on the issue, she attempted to chart a middle ground, opposing Prop 23’s open-ended suspension of AB 32 while simultaneously planning to suspend AB 32 for at least one year to allow the state’s economy time to recover.

CLUE’s Klein said that any suspension of the greenhouse gas law was ill-advised. We really don’t have any time to waste,” Klein said. “If we allow for a delay in AB 32’s enforcement, we are really going to choke ourselves.”

“Either we’re going to save this planet, or we’re going to throw it away,” said Rev. Albert G. Cohen, executive director of the Southern California Ecumenical Council. “It’s about the future and we have a chance to make a strong statement by defeating Proposition 23.”