Well he is a California politician where environmental issues are taken more seriously than most states in the USA, but even so, this story caught me way off guard:

Sacramento — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s administration is expected this month to release a far-reaching proposal to combat global warming that calls for increasing the price of gasoline to fund research into alternative fuels and requiring industries for the first time to report the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions they produce.

Nine months ago Schwarzenegger garnered international headlines by calling for California to mount an aggressive effort to address global warming. Now he faces the difficult part: shepherding new policies into place that could affect every car owner, farmer and big industry in the state.

The proposal, drafted by the governor’s senior environmental advisers, has both business groups and clean-air advocates girding for a fight in Sacramento that could have profound national environmental and political implications. With President Bush reluctant to steer federal policy toward lowering greenhouse gas emissions, states and cities have taken the lead on what most environmentalists agree is the most critical issue facing the planet.

I suppose this could be mere political grand standing by an unpopular Governor trying to recover his mojo before the next gubernatorial election. That’s certainly the thought I had back in June, 2005, when Schwarzenegger first proposed that California would lead the fight against global warming.

Still, I am shocked that these proposals are being discussed at all under a Republican administration, even one in California. We aren’t talking about pilot projects or programs that are mere form over substance. What are being bandied about are serious government initiatives for addressing the emissions that contribute to global warming:

“What you’re considering in California is much broader than anything being discussed in other states — it’s very significant,” said Ned Helme, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Clean Air Policy, a nonprofit environmental think tank. […]

Sources at the state Environmental Protection Agency — which is charged with writing the recommendations to achieve Schwarzenegger’s goals — say the proposal will call for a new charge on petroleum equal to less than a penny per gallon of gasoline. Conservative activists have begun to complain about the idea, branding it a gas tax. […]

The draft report listed dozens of options — many already under way — to lower emissions, ranging from requiring farmers to change the way they handle animal manure to ramping up the state’s use of the wind and sun to generate electricity.

The report will be delivered to the governor’s office and the Legislature. Many of the proposals would have to be enacted through legislation.

The report noted that the state faces numerous problems, from less water to increased strength and frequency of storms, if it does not act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It also argued that stimulating innovative technologies to reduce pollution can create jobs and save consumers money.

Among the report’s recommendations are two that are likely to become hot-button issues in Sacramento: adding a so-called public goods charge on gasoline and requiring industries like cement makers, electricity generators and oil refineries to report their greenhouse gas emissions.

Industries are regulated with respect to many emissions, such as sulfur dioxide, but don’t face the same controls on greenhouse gases.

The added charge on gasoline would pay for research into alternative fuels and other ways to make cars more fuel-efficient.

Advocates for the idea and the report’s authors note that a similar public goods charge is included in every Californians’ energy bill and that money has gone to funding renewable energy and energy efficiency programs that have lessened pollution and saved consumers money.

Ironically, the so-called “gas tax” is not the most significant proposal that the Schwarzenegger report advocates, even if it is the one easiest for the public to understand and for conservatives to attack. Let’s go back to the proposal requiring industry to report their greenhouse gas emissions. Why is that significant? Because it is the first step in establishing a “cap and trade” system whereby government would place overall limits on greenhouse gas emissions, setting up a market where those who reduce emissions could trade credits to those who, for whatever reason, are unable or unwilling to reduce their own.

Requiring companies to report how much greenhouse gases they produce is seen as a first step toward a growing trend in combating global warming, called a cap-and-trade system in which emission levels are capped and industries can buy and sell credits with each other to reach mandated reductions.

The report describes a cap-and-trade system but does not make it a primary recommendation.

There already is some movement toward capping emissions in the energy sector, however. The state Public Utilities Commission voted 4-0 Thursday to begin capping emissions on power plants used by the state’s three investor-owned utilities.

Now, cap and trade mechanisms are a favorite policy recommendation of conservatives when it comes to reducing emissions, no doubt because it is viewed as a “free market” approach to the problem. I take no position on how effective they might be in reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. But I doubt that such a system, alone, would be adequate to effect major changes to our dependence on CO2 emitting fossil fuels. And I do note that Schwarzenegger’s panel doesn’t formally adopt a cap and trade proposal as one of its recommendations. So that raises the suspicion that Scwarzenegger and California Republicans are talking a good game, but, in fact, may be unlikely to follow through with any real proposal with teeth in it, even the more palatable (to conservatives) proposal to enact a cap and trade regime for greenhouse gases.

Of course, buried deep with the SF Chronicle’s story may be the most significant reason why Arnold is “seeing the light” on global warming; a future Democratic opponent who has made improving the environment a centerpiece of his campaign:

And combatting global warming appears likely to be an election issue this year. State Treasurer Phil Angelides, who hopes to be Schwarzenegger’s Democratic opponent in November, unveiled a plan Thursday that he said would reduce California’s use of gasoline and diesel fuel by 25 percent in the next 10 years.

People, this is why Democrats need to take the lead on these issues. Because if we don’t, Republicans will seek to occupy the field, and we know any legislative proposals they generate are likely to be “amended” in favor of those industries which would be effected. Frankly, I trust Schwarzenegger’s environmental credentials about as far as I could throw the man, which isn’t very far at all.

Phil Angelides is no idiot. He knows this is a winning issue for the Democratic Party. We need to encourage other Dems to make the same effort he has. To abandon the issue because of fear that you may be labeled an “environmental whacko” by the Right Wing Wurlitzer is no excuse. After all, Repubs attack only when they fear they will be hurt on an issue. Only by standing up for their principles and fighting back will the Dems ever recapture the trust and the votes of the general public.

Protecting the Environment is a core value of the Democratic Party. Let’s not abandon it out of misplaced fear or timidity. The last thing we need is for faux environmentalist Republicans to be seen as leading the charge to protect our planet.

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