Some causes are just perpetually in the limelight: Earthquakes. Budget crises. Lindsay Lohan.
These days, it’s hip to wax eco-friendly, which explains some of the uproar on campus surrounding Proposition 23, the motion to repeal California’s 2006 Air Pollution Control Law (A.B. 32).
Sandwich boards were worn proudly. Fliers were distributed aggressively. Free California Public Interest Research Group T-shirts reading “VOTE NO Prop 23” were stuffed into the bicycle baskets of unsuspecting students while they were in class, probably learning the policy strategy that led to the proposition being put on the ballot in the first place.
Today, eligible students will hopefully flock to their nearest designated voting areas to decide Proposition 23’s fate.
Most will probably have worked through any confusion by the time they head to the voting booths. But if they haven’t, it would certainly be understandable.
The information moderate voters might have perused in order to be swayed one way or the other is complicated, to say the least.
For instance, the California Official Voter Information Guide, which includes pros and cons to each proposition, has a testimonial from the American Lung Association in California that reads, “Prop. 23 would result in more air pollution that would lead to more asthma and lung disease, especially in children and seniors. Vote NO.”
A few paragraphs lower: “Proposition 23 doesn’t weaken or repeal the hundreds of laws that protect the environment, reduce air pollution, keep our water clean and protect public health. Proposition 23 applies to greenhouse gas emissions, which the California Air Resources Board concedes ‘have no direct public health impacts.’”
In situations where both parties are at least partially right, it’s hard to know who’s more right. Proposition 23 is not the Pandora’s box of pollution and oil company porkbarrel that its opponents make it out to be, nor is A.B. 32 the financial black hole bemoaned by the proposition’s supporters.
What gives Proposition 23’s opponents the edge is a combination of a crucial provision buried within the text of A.B. 32 and the potential of the green job market in California down the road.
In “Miscellaneous Provisions,” A.B. 32 states that “In the event of extraordinary circumstances, catastrophic events or threat of significant economic harm the governor may adjust the applicable deadlines for individual regulations, or for the state in the aggregate, to the earliest feasible date after that deadline.”
This means that if A.B. 32 proved too unmanageable a strain on California’s economy, as Proposition 23’s supporters suspect it might, it could be suspended for a period of one year while the governor assesses the best way to maintain it without damaging the economy, budget and job market.
Thus, voting no on Proposition 23 does not sentence California to go down with a sinking piece of legislation, should A.B. 32 prove possible in the long run only at the expense of the state budget.
Then there’s the green jobs market. Skeptics and non-believers have doggedly reminded us that alternative energy jobs in California compose a meager 1 percent of the state workforce.
To base a vote against Proposition 23 upon the argument that green jobs make up for the burden A.B. 32 places on our economy is naïve. But a more logical, big-picture approach to California economics seems to justify A.B. 32 as well. The green jobs market has skyrocketed by more than 36 percent in the last 15 years, leapfrogging the growth rate of the entire state labor force.
Clearly this isn’t enough to salvage California’s economy and high unemployment rate on its own, but consider how obscure a field alternative energy was 15 years ago, and how much publicity and funding it receives today.
As the public becomes increasingly disenchanted with the nation’s dependence on oil, and as its savvy about the consequences of pollution grows, alternative energy only picks up more speed.
There’s a reason that the words “alternative energy” and “future” are thrown together as often as they are. It might not be California’s breadwinner at the moment, but it’s not unreasonable to think that laws like A.B. 32 will end up paying for themselves, if not as soon as we might like them too.
It’s also hard to get around the fact that Proposition 23 will only reinstate A.B. 32 when California’s unemployment rate dips below 5.5 percent, something that will be accomplished in roughly the same time frame as Meg Whitman winning the majority of the Latino vote.
Proposition 23 isn’t a cut and dried issue. As Whitman, who opposes the proposition, has proven, it’s not as simple as voting along party lines, and it’s not just a matter of deciding whether your allegiances lie with the economy or with the environment.
Many voters will likely recall only the fliers and the sandwich boards and reflexively vote no. But they should also be apprised of what exactly the proposition means for the future of California.
We have to take the leap of faith with alternative energy and green agendas eventually — if we abandon them every time the economy is struggling, we’ll never get any decisive environmental policy off the ground. The safety net in A.B. 32 gives us a chance to explore how the regulation will play out without tying policymakers’ hands or handicapping the struggle against unemployment.
At least for now.
Kastalia Medrano is a sophomore majoring in print and digital journalism and editorial director for the Daily Trojan. Her column, “Green Piece,” runs Tuesdays.