Whitman's global warming positions leave her stand unclear

Meg Whitman's evolving and sometimes irrelevant statements on global warming leave it unclear how she would deal with the issue.

Gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman is playing both sides of the fence on the issue of global warming, belatedly opposing Prop. 23 – the measure that would suspend AB 32, California's long-term plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and promoting clean technology – but promising to delay implementation of AB 32 for a year anyway.

Yet the California Air Resources Board, the department tasked with drafting the regulations for the bill, isn’t even scheduled to finish drafting all the rules for the measure until Jan 1, 2011, and those rules wouldn't go into effect for another year anyway. So it appears that Whitman's stand is simply pandering to those who don't see global warming as a pressing problem, in the process leaving uncertainty about how she would handle the issue if elected.

Still, her stance worries a swath of businesses that were hoping to cash in on a renewable-friendly economy. “There are already 500,000 Clifornian’s working in the clean energy sector and around 160,000 of them are in construction and manufacturing,” Donnie Fowler, senior advisor at the Clean Economy Network, told us.

Fowler is part of a campaign to promote the growth of the renewable economy. However, their pressing task is raising awareness of the potentially damaging effects if Prop 23 is passed. The measure would suspend the regulations within AB32 indefinitely and require, potentially, a citizen’s initiative to overturn it. The other option would be to wait until the unemployment rate drops below 5.5 percent for four consecutive quarters – a rare occurrence – at which point the suspension would automatically be lifted.

The LA Times released a poll last week that has Prop 23 winning by a slight margin, with 40 percent in favor of the initiative and 38 percent opposed. The proposition's current success is largely a result of large donations from Texas based oil companies Tesoro Corp and Valero Energy Corp. and multibillionaire libertarian brothers David and Charles Koch.

Much of the opposition to AB32, however, has arisen from the anti-tax fervor sweeping the country – which Whitman has played on. Before she started making her rhetorical sojourn to the middle, coming out against Prop. 23 just last month, she told the San Jose Mercury that I probably would today, I need to think about that,” when asked whether she would veto AB32. Well, she thought about it and has since maintained that she would only suspend the bill long enough to assess what impact it would have on California jobs. Yet, the phrase job killer remains on her website.

Derek Walker, Director of the California Climate Initiative, thinks she is probably smart enough to understand what kind of impact suspending AB32 would have on renewable energy businesses currently operating in California.

But, if she is elected, will she have the political will to renege on her promised moratorium? And what would her position be if Prop 23 is passed?  Would renewable energy companies be left high and dry? Would she come to their aid?

“It would be very uncertain in the absence of AB32. However, the overwhelming support would almost require a plan to keep California’s clean energy economy growing,” Walker said.