Arnold Schwarzenegger flexes muscles to defend climate change law


California governor fights hard to protect his green legacy, taking on oil executives who aim to annul law via Proposition 23
Suzanne Goldenberg
in San Francisco

Arnold Schwarzenegger
California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is fighting oil firms that want to cancel his climate change bill through the Proposition 23 referendum. Photograph: Max Whittaker/Getty Images

It was his signature line from his days as an action hero: “I’ll be back.” Now Arnold Schwarzenegger’s fight to protect his climate legacy is fuelling speculation that he is seeking a role as environmental defender on a bigger stage.
With just a week to go until Californians choose his successor as governor, Schwarzenegger has hurled himself into the campaign against the Proposition 23 ballot initiative brought by Texas oil refiners and the billionaire Koch brothers that would effectively kill off his climate change law, which requires 25% cuts in emissions levels by 2020.

He has called oil company executives and eco-entrepreneurs, visited investment bankers and held a fundraising event at his home, helping to build a huge cash advantage for the climate campaigners over the oil firms. He has lobbied Hollywood directors and used a Tweetcast to urge his 1.8 million followers to vote down the measure.
In so doing he has cast himself as a new kind of action man – Eco-defender – claiming that a defeat for Proposition 23 could finally put some steel in Washington’s spine to act on climate. We need to go to Washington and say, ‘Look what happened: because the oil companies spent money against you and threatened you, you backed off on energy policy and environmental policy’,” he told ABC television. “What wimps! No guts!” During the Tweetcast, Schwarzenegger said: “Prop 23 is funded by Texan oil companies. And … they … happen to be the biggest polluters in California.”
Environmental allies say this may be his biggest role yet. “He’s huge. He is the reason, he is the important reason. If this goes down, which I think it will, I would give him most of the credit,” said Thomas Steyer, a venture capitalist and co-chairman of the campaign, who has given $5m of his own money to defeat the measure. Steyer, a venture capitalist, is “I think he made a lot of calls to a lot of large companies explaining to them why their best economic interests and [those] of the states are not best served by Proposition 23,” he said.
Proposition 23 would put an indefinite hold on his ambitious climate action plan – voted on by Californians and signed into law by Schwarzenegger in 2006. It would freeze action on climate until the jobless rate fell below 5.5% and stayed there for a year – which is all-but impossible, economists say. California’s jobless rate is 12%, and it has fallen to 5.5% only three times in 40 years.
Such an outcome would make Washington politicians even more jittery about tackling global warming, and would rob Schwarzenegger of his signature accomplishment as he exits the governor’s mansion with approval ratings in the 20s.
That is evidently something he will not tolerate. “You have to be aware that whatever you do can be undone by outside forces,” he told the San Jose Mercury News. “It’s a great battle between good and evil – it’s like a movie. You have the villain dressed in dark black, and the good guys in white and green.”
His comments at the Commonwealth Club in Santa Clara were even more brutal, rejecting the Texas firms’ claims they were trying to protect jobs in California. “This is like Eva Braun selling a kosher cookbook. It’s not about jobs at all. It’s about their ability to pollute and protect their profits,” he said.
Schwarzenegger’s fighting talk has rekindled interest in his annual governor’s summit on climate change, due on 15-16 November. It has also galvanised the pro-climate side. A Los Angeles Times/University of Southern California poll on Monday suggested Proposition 23 would end in defeat, with 48% of likely voters opposed, 32% in favour, and 19% undecided.
It has also got the cash flowing in, with opponents raising $30m to the $10m raised by oil refining interests.
However, oil interests have a 4-1 advantage on a more obscure ballot measure, Proposition 26, which could also cripple climate action by requiring the legislature to have a two-thirds majority before imposing any new fees or tariffs.
The roster of opponents to Proposition 23 includes big Hollywood names alongside hi-tech, venture capital, and household brands, with individuals associated with Google, Sun Microsystems, Intel, Cisco and Gap giving more than $1m each.
Contributions supporting Proposition 23 come mainly from two Texas refining companies, Valero Energy Corp, which has donated more than $5m, and Tesoro, which has donated $2m. A subsidiary owned by the Koch family, which has bankrolled Tea Party groups, put in $1m in September. An obscure libertarian thinktank from Missouri, the Adam Smith Foundation, gave nearly $500,000.
The large donations have raised concerns in some quarters about corporate influence.
“What is striking to me when you look at this … is that if you are a wealthy corporation like Valero or a wealthy individual like Steyer, you can have a hand in framing the rest of the laws that Californians live under,” said Daniel Newman, executive director of Maplight,which tracks money in political funding. “It does show once again how a tiny concentration of people is controlling the debate, whether from the clean tech side or the oil and gas side.”
The strong support for climate action in California is an anomaly in an election where Democratic candidates are running away from Barack Obama’s environmental agenda, and Republicans are burnishing their Tea Party credentials by dismissing global warming as “alarmism”.
If Proposition 23 were passed, it would scare the White House even further away from action on climate change. Obama, in an interview published on Monday, admitted he would take on global warming only in “bite-sized pieces” in the second half of his term.
“We sort of see it as the last bastion of sanity right now in the United States on this issue,” said Sarah Severn, who oversees sustainability for Nike. “The key worry is that if Proposition 23 did pass [it would mean] anything is possible. Every state’s carbon legislation in whatever state or … form would be open to large amounts of money coming in from other states and trying to disrupt them.”
The passage of Proposition 23 would also further embolden a Republican-dominated Congress intent on stripping the federal government’s Environmental Protection Agency of its powers to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
“It’s pretty straightforward. If California, after four years of implementation, abandoned climate policies for economic reasons I can’t imagine any other state continuing, and the federal government would be even less likely to do anything,” said Bob Epstein, a founder of the E2 Environmental Entrepreneur network, who is working to defeat the initiative.
If Proposition 23 is defeated, though, especially by a large margin and with solid support from Republicans such as Schwarzenegger, would offer a slim chance of reframing the debate over climate change from a Democratic concern to one that crosses political boundaries.
And that is where Schwarzenegger’s allies in the fight against Proposition 23 believe he could slot in. Once mentioned as a possible contender for a post in the Obama administration or as a potential senator, the governor is now being talked about as more of an ambassador-at-large for the planet.
As of now, Schwarzenegger is offering no clues as to his future plans. During his Tweetcast he said he was thinking of writing a book, and that he was unsure if he would return to making films, as he was not sure he still had the patience to sit on a movie set for three or six months at a time.
He may prefer life on the move. Schwarzenegger was at the Copenhagen climate change summit last year, and has recently returned from China, after speaking out about its advances in clean technology. For his allies in California, a continuing environmental role does not seem far-fetched. “He has the ability to get an audience, and can attract really good people,” Epstein said.


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