Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Obama's Victory and California's Proposition Confusion

Despite Obama's historic victory, in California, two 'environmental' initiatives were defeated yesterday. California's Proposition results are contentious in part because the wording on various ballot initiatives was very confusing. The Propositions on Renewable Energy Generation (Proposition 7) and Alternative Fuel Vehicles, (Proposition 10) illustrate this point.

Proposition 7 on Renewable Energy Generation, was defeated with 65% of Californians opposed. This Prop would have dramatically changed California's energy consumption. Prop 7 has been heralded by some as a way to ease the dependence on fossil fuels. It required electric utilities to produce 20 percent of their energy from renewable resources by 2010, 40 percent by 2020, and 50 percent by 2025. Those who opposed Prop 7 said that it would wipe out the market for small renewable energy companies. According to them, changes in the definition of an eligible renewable energy resource would eliminate most small renewable energy companies as they could never produce the required levels of power (30 megawatts). However, a different section of the guide defines "eligible renewable energy source" with different wording. It is explained as a facility that meets the criteria of using sources such as solar or wind, and is located in or transmitting into the state of California, and smaller renewable energy companies do meet this criteria.

Proposition 10 on Alternative Energy Vehicles was defeated with 60% of Californians opposed. Here again wording was an issue. The way this Prop was worded, a voter giving it a casual perusal might have thought they were voting for the environment. To opponents it amounted to handing a blank check to the Texas oilman funding the initiative. The failed Proposition sought to authorize $5 billion in bonds ($9.8 billion with interest), much of which would provide rebates to buyers of natural gas run vehicles. Because of the significant costs, most taxpayers were opposed and because natural gas powered vehicles pollute as much as diesel and gas, every major environmental group was opposed, including the Alliance for Responsible Energy Policy, Environment California, League of Conservation Voters, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, and the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Obama's momentus win can be claimed by all Americans, yet in California, his victory comes alongside the unpleasant irony of Prop 8, and the unnecessarily convoluted issues surrounding Props 7 & 10. This may be a time of great possibility, but as revealed in California, the road ahead will indeed be a steep and arduous climb. Amongst the President elect's many responsibilities, he is tasked to consider fiscally responsible (Green) investments and avoid multibillion dollar greenwashing scams from profiteers like T. Boone Pickens. To borrow from the vanquished Republican, this is a time for straight talk. With a host of environmental challenges and an economy teetering on the brink of recession, America is looking to its government for answers.

The President elect will begin his presidency with a mountain of political capital. This gives us reason to hope that the unparalleled promise afforded by the Democrat's convincing victory will be conducive to effective economic and environmental leadership.

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