By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
California’s environment — which shows signs of degradation after more than a decade of progress — has been largely ignored by the candidates in the recall debate.
Air pollution is up this summer to levels not seen for more than six years, and asthma is on the rise, with one in three children in Fresno suffering from the chronic disease. Californians face waterborne illnesses lurking in the surf from urban runoff, and towns have lost their drinking water due to contamination. Motorists are paying record prices at the pump because the state’s oil industry can barely supply enough fuel for the growing number of gas-guzzler sport utility vehicles on the road. Signs warn grocery shoppers of mercury poisoning in fish.
“California’s environment is at a critical stage right now,” said Dan Jacobson, legislative director of Environment California, an arm of the California Public Interest Research Group. “It’s one of the top five issues people think about.”
Given the level of interest, you might think the candidates would be tripping over themselves to get their views known on environmental issues. Think again. “I don’t hear anything about the environment in the media,” said Liz Burch, assistant professor of communications studies at Sonoma State University. “I don’t know if anyone is asking those questions.”
Whoever Californians elect will command the largest environmental program in the nation, short of the federal government’s, and will confront tough issues, including how to fund programs and how to carry out some of the most ambitious laws in the world — from limiting global-warming gas emissions from cars, to producing 20 percent of the state’s electricity with wind, solar and other renewable resources by 2017.
“The stakes are very, very high,” said Rico Mastrodonato, interim executive director of the California League of Conservation Voters, which rates lawmakers based on their environmental voting records.
The field of candidates offers voters a wide array of choices, from conservative Republican Senator Tom McClintock of Thousand Oaks, who favors a rollback of environmental rules, to Green Party candidate Peter Camejo, with his $2.5 billion plan to jump-start the state’s economy by backing the solar-energy industry.
Arnold Schwarzenegger likes a good Hummer. After spotting a convoy of Humvees while filming the movie Kindergarten Cop in 1990, the tough-guy icon convinced American General to make a consumer version of the military vehicle. Seeing the potential, General Motors bought the Hummer name and has donated the vehicles, which get about 10 miles to the gallon, to help raise money for Schwarzenegger’s charity organization, the Inner-City Games Foundation. In a quintessential moment of branding the Hummer image onto the public’s imagination, Schwarzenegger drove former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani to ABC’s studios in a sunset-orange Hummer H2, leading a convoy down Broadway to kick off the New York Auto Show for GM in 2001. “With four Hummers he has embodied the worldview of total domination of the planet,” said Tyler Snortum-Phelps, director of the Green Party’s Camejo for California Governor campaign.
In an environmental statement released late last month, however, Schwarzenegger broke ranks with President Bush on relaxing clean-air standards for new and expanded power plants, refineries and other industrial facilities, saying that he would direct the state Air Resources Board “to propose state regulations to ensure that new facilities do not worsen our air quality.” Schwarzenegger called for the state to “fully enforce” laws to protect water resources and called on the federal government to “purchase the remaining offshore oil leases” back from oil companies to prevent future offshore drilling, as in Florida. He further pledged to promote hydrogen vehicles in California.
McClintock — who has a rating of 0 out of 100 from the League of Conservation Voters — backs the Bush administration’s recent move to rescind mandatory air-pollution controls for major industries when they upgrade, expand or build new plants. He views the historic requirement under the federal Clean Air Act as a disincentive to build new facilities, said John Stoos, deputy director of the Republican’s campaign. “Senator McClintock is in strong support of Bush,” he said.
So far state environmental organizations strongly back Governor Gray Davis, despite the fact that air pollution and other problems may be worsening. They laud him for his appointments to the state’s environmental boards and commissions and for signing legislation that sets the state at the forefront of the environmental movement, such as the bill to cut greenhouse-gas emissions from autos.
“Gray Davis, arguably, has been one of the best governors on the environment this state has ever had,” said Mastrodonato of the California League of Conservation Voters, which is urging a no vote on recall and a yes vote on Bustamante. He also has signed bills to clean up diesel trucks and buses, acquire more parkland, protect children’s health from environmental pollution, and encourage the use of renewable energy. However, growth and countervailing forces, such as the state budget crisis and relaxation of federal standards by the Bush administration, have undercut environmental quality at the same time. “Results on the ground cannot be clearly shouldered by the governor. There’s a lot that’s beyond control of the governor,” said Mastrodonato.