Reflecting on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's Green Record

If you’ve been reading the news or listening to local talk radio programs, you know that ‘tis the season for reflecting on Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s years in office and how well or poorly he performed on a number of issues important to voters.

I was recently interviewed by reporter Paul Rogers of the San Jose Mercury News and Patt Morrison of Los Angeles public radio on the governor’s performance on the environment. I gave the governor credit for pushing back against the Bush Administration’s climate change denial, for providing a much-needed megaphone for California’s leadership on pioneering climate and clean energy policies, and for helping to demonstrate that there is bipartisan support in California for strong environmental laws.

However, I pointed out that governor Schwarzenegger has not been a perfect champion for California’s environment. CLCV’s annual California Environmental Scorecard is a fair accounting of the governor’s performance on the environment as a whole. We’re still completing the Scorecard for 2010, but through 2009 Schwarzenegger had an average score of 53 percent. This means the governor signed important environmental legislation about half of the time it landed on his desk and vetoed the other half; in addition, he signed a handful of anti-environmental bills.

Compare Schwarzenegger’s’ score to incoming and former governor Jerry Brown’s average environmental score in CLCV’s Scorecard. When Brown was governor from 1975-1982 he earned an average score of 86 percent. Schwarzenegger’s immediate predecessor Gray Davis earned 82% for his time as governor. On the other hand, Schwarzenegger has out-performed other previous governors Pete Wilson (33%) and George Deukmejian (46%). It is also notable that the governor scored far better than any of his fellow Republicans in either the state Senate or Assembly.   Below is a summary of some of the governor’s primary environmental accomplishments and failures.

Primary accomplishments

• Landmark California Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32)

While we would certainly give a great deal of the credit to state Senator Fran Pavley, the author of AB 32, and the coalition of groups that worked successfully to move it through the legislature, the governor deserves credit for signing it into law. Moreover, in the years since he signed it he has made it his legacy bill, and as a result the law has received the national and international prominence it deserves.

•  Defeating the Dirty Energy Proposition (No on Prop 23 Campaign)

If we’re reluctant to give the governor all the credit for AB 32’s start, we can certainly applaud him for his significant efforts to prevent its end. Along with the co-chairs of the No on 23 campaign, Tom Steyer and former Secretary of State George Schultz, the governor played a critical and vocal role in defeating the deceptive repeal funded by out-of-state oil companies. It was here he really fulfilled his action hero role on climate change. We hope he will “be back” to continue to promote national and international responses to climate change.

• Land Use Planning and Emissions (SB 375)

As with AB 32, the governor was close to vetoing the bill before he became its latest and greatest supporter and signed it into law in 2008. SB 375 is a first-in-the-nation law that gives local and state officials the tools to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by making housing and transportation planning decisions that reduce urban sprawl. It’s the most important change in land-use planning since the Coastal Act and the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) were approved in the 1970s.

• Marine Reserves and Ocean Protection   

By fully implementing California’s Marine Life Protection Act, the Schwarzenegger administration is creating the nation’s first statewide network of marine protected areas in the United States. By the end of the governor’s term, 3/4ths of the state will have a comprehensive network and a process is underway to complete the remainder of the coast. This network will go down in history as a landmark achievement in U.S. ocean conservation.

Primary failures

• Pushed Exemptions to CEQA

The governor signed almost every bad CEQA-exemption bill that got through the legislature—including a particularly egregious exemption for a proposed football stadium pushed by a billionaire developer—and proposed even more in his 2010 budget. Fortunately, the vast majority of these proposed exemptions were defeated by environmental advocates in committee long before they could reach his desk.

• Port Pollution Continues 

In 2007, the Schwarzenegger administration asked state Senator Alan Lowenthal to hold his bill (SB 974) addressing deadly air pollution at the state’s ports. The Senator complied after the governor assured him he supported the bill’s goals and only wanted minor changes. But the governor inexplicably and indefensibly vetoed the bill the following year. As a result, thousands of mostly low-income residents of port communities continue to absorb the pollution and health impacts of these national engines of commerce.

• State Parks Threatened

The governor provided little direction on the challenge of how to protect and preserve the Golden State’s world-renowned parks in the face of a crushing budget deficit. Over and over again the governor’s budget proposals threatened state parks with closure. This penny-wise and pound-foolish approach frustrated park advocates, who point out that the parks are not only an important public resource but also an important tourist attraction and economic engine for the state.

Jury Still Out on Toxics

Governor Schwarzenegger’s Green Chemistry Initiative, along with chemical reform bills he signed in 2008, attempts to establish a process to reduce or eliminate hazardous materials in consumer products. The initiative could be on his list of environmental accomplishments—or not. The governor’s toxics agency recently released a set of rules that many environmental leaders claimed were watered down at the last minute. The weak rules garnered much controversy in recent weeks.  Just days ago, the governor indicated through his chief of Cal-EPA, Secretary Linda Adams, that the state’s Department of Toxic Substances Control will take additional time to respond to the substantial concerns raised and will revisit the proposed regulations. The jury is still out on whether Green Chemistry and addressing toxics in general will be a success or failure for the governor.

In a nutshell

When Arnold Schwarzenegger became governor in the dramatic recall of former governor Gray Davis in October 2003, he demonstrated the potential to be a mold-breaking pro-environmental Republican governor. One of his first acts as governor was to derail a Congressional effort to weaken California clean air rules. He made solid appointments to key environmental posts in state government and pledged to work with the environmental community on protecting the state’s natural resources and public health.

Over the next seven years, Schwarzenegger demonstrated leadership on several environmental issues, including his standout areas of addressing climate change, renewable energy and ocean protection. But at the end of the day the governor was an uneven advocate for the environment. He was particularly unpredictable on toxics, state parks, and laws that protect communities from unchecked and irresponsible development.

Looking to 2011 and beyond, CLCV is looking forward to working with the incoming governor on his environmental platform and will be calling on all of you to help us keep Jerry Brown accountable to his green campaign promises.

Posted on December 30, 2010


Shopping Basket