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California voters to decide on climate change law

A ballot initiative [text, PDF] aimed at suspending California's Global Warming Solutions Act (AB32) [materials] qualified on Tuesday for California's November ballot, setting the stage for a debate over environmental policy and its impact on the economy. The initiative, known as the California Jobs Initiative, has been partially funded by oil companies Valero Energy and Tesoro Corp [corporate websites] and, if passed, would suspend implementation of AB32 or any other regulation on carbon emissions until the unemployment rate within the state is at or below 5.5 percent for one year. AB32, signed into law in 2006 [JURIST report], seeks to return greenhouse gas emission [JURIST news archive] levels in the state to 1990 levels by 2020 through a series of regulations on automobiles, oil refineries and other industrial polluters. The law would also require that one-third of the energy used within the state come from a renewable source such as wind or solar energy. Proponents of the initiative contend that it is necessary [LAT report] during the current economic downturn in order to prevent further job loss within the state and to prevent a rise in utility and fuel rates. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger [official website] reiterated his support for AB32 and condemned the initiative [press release], stating:

This initiative sponsored by greedy Texas oil companies would cripple California's fastest growing economic sector, reverse our renewable energy policy and decimate our environmental progress for the benefit of these oil companies' profit margins. I will not allow this to happen on my watch. We will continue moving this state forward with our comprehensive energy policy that creates jobs, reduces our reliance on foreign oil and ensures the California we love will be the California we hand over to the next generation.
There has been debate over the effect AB32 would have on the job market, although the non-partisan state Legislative Analyst's Office [official website] found that the law would result in an increase in some job markets [report] with losses in others. The regulations associated with AB32 are currently scheduled to go into effect in 2012.

The California debate could have an effect on current federal efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Earlier this month, the US Senate [official website] defeated a resolution [materials; JURIST report] aimed at limiting the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) [official website] to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act [materials]. The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] affirmed the EPA's ability to regulate carbon emissions under the Clear Air Act in its 2007 ruling in Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report]. In its ruling, the court held that if the EPA could show a link between greenhouse gas emissions and public health and welfare, then the act gives it the power to regulate emissions. The EPA announced last December [JURIST report] that it had found that greenhouse gases "threaten the public health and welfare of current and future generations," and that emissions from motor vehicles contribute to greenhouse gas pollution. The EPA first announced its proposed finding [JURIST report] in April before undertaking a 60-day public comment period. Some have suggested that the EPA findings have allowed Congress to avoid the political fallout [JURIST comment] that could come from passing tough climate legislation.

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