Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, joined by Prime Minister Tony Blair and other notables, signs California’s landmark 2006 climate change package in this NWN video.
Things may be more than a bit stalled out for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in the state Capitol. With the return of the chronic budget crisis, the two parties in the Legislature, dominated by their respective ultra-government (Democratic) and anti-government(Republican) factions, have assumed their default positions. But while the two legislative parties inch forward toward the big reveal that their positions are untenable, Schwarzenegger moves forward on other fronts.
He’s big on the international front, though no longer so much on the international trips, and on another occasion I’ll get into his moves in advance of a major border governors conference this summer in LA. He’s the kick-off guest this Sunday for the new edition of Meet The Press with host Tom Brokaw, the former NBC News anchor who’s taken the place of the late Tim Russert. His administration is working to implement the state’s landmark climate change legislation, to mostly good notices so far. And he’s speaking out on energy policy.
If all this sounds a bit presidential, well, it is. Schwarzenegger is at least as plausible a contender as most of the folks who ran good races this time around. But there’s just that little constitutional wrinkle for the Austrian-born former Mr. Universe. Still, he is the governor of America’s biggest state, as well as a global brand in his own right, with many options for action.
Actually, Schwarzenegger sees energy policy as utterly central, not only to his long-range climate change plans for California and the rest of it all but also, increasingly, to the national political debate. A really comprehensive energy policy has been missing from the presidential contenders, both John McCain, backed by Schwarzenegger, and Barack Obama. So yesterday in Miami, speaking at the Florida Summit on Global Climate Change, the former action superstar took a stab at laying out an energy policy.
He began by discussing environmental and economic and geopolitical challenges, with “the addiction to oil” front and center. He didn’t talk about bringing down the price of oil, and hence, gasoline, perhaps because the real keys to doing so – involving speculation, the dollar, and geopolitical risk premiums – are a bit beyond the purview of a governor.
“We need,” he said, “a consistent, long-term energy policy that gives consumers more choices. And we have to stick with it, not just a few years until something better comes along and then drop it.”
Politicians, he noted, without naming them, though most felt he was clearly referring to his endorsed candidate for president, amongst others, have been throwing around many ideas, in a sort of crazyquilt pattern that doesn’t really add up to what they say.
“Rethinking nuclear power to pushing biofuels and more renewables and ending the ban on offshore drilling and it goes on and on, the list. But anyone who tells you that this will bring down our gas prices immediately or anytime soon, is blowing smoke. America is so addicted to oil that it will take years to wean ourselves from it and to look for new ways to feed our addiction is not the answer.”
Florida Governor Charlie Crist, a possible McCain running mate who last week switched his position on offshore drilling (and later adjusted it in response to the outcry against him in his own state), was sitting just off to the side as Schwarzenegger said this.
Instead of desperately drilling in new areas for relatively small amounts of oil that won’t affect price in a global market, Schwarzenegger said the answer is to go “towards greater innovation and new technologies and new fuel choices for our consumers. This is the only way that we will ultimately reduce fuel costs and protect our environment. In other words, America did not get into this mess overnight and we are not going to get out of this mess overnight.”
Schwarzenegger declared it “shameful” that America gets less than 2% of its energy from renewable sources. And that California gets 12% of its electricity now from renewables and, with mandates he has pushed, 33% by 2020. He noted that Germany leads the world in solar power and Denmark leads the world in wind power, with 20% of its electricity from wind and one in three wind turbines produced in the world coming from the small Scandinavian country. He did not note that California, when Jerry Brown was governor, led the world in both wind and solar power. America, Schwarzenegger declared, should be leading the world in solar and wind power.
He lauded Brazil for its strong ethanol program, which is cellulosic rather than corn-based. Corn-based ethanol, which dominatees in the US, is driving up food prices.
And he praised Denmark, Germany, and Brazil for making “a commitment to clean energy and not wavering, even when it wasn’t popular or appealing.”
In contrast to those countries, US policy “is all over the place. We had a big solar energy push under President Carter in the late ’70s, but then we abandoned it again.” Congress, he noted, passed tax credits for solar, wind and geothermal energy in the 1990s, but “now it’s expiring by the end of this year and we have no idea if they ever will renew it, which ought to be renewed for another decade.”
Schwarzenegger criticized politicians and the auto industry for dropping the ball on vehicle fuel efficiency, which would lower the pain at the pump dramatically.
“Our average passenger vehicles,” he noted “get less than 25 miles per gallon, because politicians have not been willing to hold automakers feet and oil companies’ feet to the fire. That’s less than the Model T got in the 1920s. The Model T in the 1920s got more than 25 miles per gallon.”
Since the Model T went out of production, “America summoned the political will to put a man on the moon and to end legal discrimination and to bring down the Berlin Wall and the list goes on and on and on.” In each case, he said America “was guided by an unyielding and optimistic vision for the future.”
Instead, today’s politicians are happy to require fuel efficiency averages to go from 25 miles per gallon to 35; by the year 2020. But Schwarzenegger noted that Italy already has cars averaging 35 miles per gallon.
Schwarzenegger famously forced the market mechanism of carbon trading into California’s greenhouse gas reduction program, to bring a degree of flexibility. But he clearly sees regulation as playing a forcing function for innovation. He also talked up California’s first-in-the-world Low Carbon Fuel Standard which mandates clean fuels but doesn’t pick winners, as well as new green building standards, the so-called “Million Solar Roof” program, and the Renewable Portfolio Standard, which mandates that utilities sharply increase the proportion of renewable sources in their energy mix.
All of which he says, echoing the Wall Street Journal, is helping to spur a “New Gold Rush” for California in clean tech investment.
It’s an aggressive agenda. All the answers? Hardly. But an intriguing effort.
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