California's Proposition 23 opponents succeeded in killing the bill. (NRDC photo)
It was three days before Decision 2010, and I stood in a hockey arena in Bridgeport, Connecticut, not 30 feet from President Obama, as he exhorted a friendly, multi-racial crowd to get out the vote and keep the dream alive. He was eloquent as always, and the audience in a city with 10% unemployment was right there with the green jobs message. The idea that they'd be put to work "building electric cars" got a ripple of applause.
Obama's message needed to resonate in Bridgeport, and it did (the margin in the city elected the one-term Democratic Congressman), but it didn't carry in that many other places. The idea that runaway government spending is at the root of the American people's economic woes, spread by Fox News, Tea Partiers and the conservative blogosphere, was much more persuasive.
President Obama's auto bailout czar, Steven Rattner (author of the new book Overhaul), told me the political case for the TARP bailouts was difficult to make, at least in a sound bite. "It's hard to prove a counter-factual, meaning that if something hadn't happened things would have been worse," he said. "That made it hard if not impossible for President Obama and other people running for office to make the case that the bailouts worked, and that they were not only good but necessary."
So what happens now? Republicans control the House, but it would be a mistake to assume they'll lump electric cars in with cap-and-trade as public enemy number one. EVs are a bipartisan issue, and that's more than a feel-good line.
Plug-In America did a pre-election survey of federal legislators' votes on five EV votes in the 110th and 111th Congress, and guess what? Some 211 members of the House received perfect score, as did 67 members of the Senate. They voted "yes" on every bill.
Only two Senators, and 98 representatives received zero scores. One of those Senators was Tea Party icon Jim DeMint (R-SC), just re-elected for another six years. DeMint voted against raising federal fuel economy standards, and against any and all subsidies for EVs. I explained this to a vice president at a recharging company, and he said, "Oh boy."
Expect that any global warming legislation is dead in the water now, even though cap-and-trade was a "market-based" solution. In fact, anything with a climate change banner is in limbo. Bills have a chance if they use nice phrases like "clean energy," "energy independence," "freedom from foreign oil" and the like.
In California, voters firmly rejected Proposition 23, which would have annihilated the state's landmark AB 32 climate bill, but many probably misinterpreted the intent of the lower-profile Proposition 26, which passed. It doesn't kill AB 32, but it requires a "super majority" two-thirds legislative vote on any new fee. And that's how states like California raise money for green projects--they attach fees to gasoline, driver's licenses, cigarettes and alcohol ("sin taxes").
Oil companies, with cigarette and liquor makers by their side in a coalition right out of Thank You for Smoking, poured more than $10 million into the campaign for Prop. 26. And because of their blanket ad campaign, the bill was poorly understood, and it passed Tuesday in a very green state.
Some greens are celebrating the defeat of 23, but not mentioning the passage of 26. Peter Lehner of the Natural Resources Defense Council blogged, "The vote in California was particularly significant. This was the first time climate solutions were put to a public referendum. And despite the millions of dollars that fossil fuel companies poured into the race, Californians made it clear they want to build a cleaner energy future."
Yes, Peter, the voters defeated Prop. 23, but they passed 26, and it's pretty bad. Serena Ingre of NRDC tells me that the measure "will make the California state budget harder to balance, again. It will shift the cost of public health and environmental damages caused by companies from those responsible to taxpayers, blowing an immediate $1 billion hole in the state budget," and it's retroactive to Jan 1, 2010.
But she says it will not stop AB 32. Mary Nichols of the California Air Resources Board said today, "AB 32 is on track, with renewed vigor thanks to the resounding defeat of Prop 23 by the voters." Well, that's a relief.
California is providing the biggest subsidies for EVs, a $5,000 rebate, and that fee may be "grandfathered" in, but any modifications or increases to that program (paid for with a DMV fee) would need that big majority in the legislature.
The voters in California also elected Jerry Brown as governor, and he's a well-known friend of EVs (as Arnold Schwarzenegger was). I doubt that there's been any significant slippage in support for environmental initiatives in California, but Prop. 26 is a cautionary tale. Ironically, the whole ballot measure thing there was pushed by progressives who pushed the idea of citizens making public policy. Be careful of what you wish for. And never underestimate lobbyists for oil, cigarettes and liquor.
Mike McQuary, CEO of electric car company Wheego, says he's optimistic. "My expectation is that the election results will not affect the growth of electric cars," he said. "The belief that we need to put more electric cars on the road in the next few years is a bi-partisan sentiment, not to mention the possible jobs creation that this new industry segment will be providing." OK everybody, bipartisan, job creation, electric cars.
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