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The Daily Need

Climate victory? Not so much.

In the immediate wake of Tuesday’s elections, I read plenty of coverage (including a Need To Know article) declaring the defeat of California’s Proposition 23 to be a “decisive victory” for climate hawks and “giving heart” to clean energy advocates around the country. What most of those posts neglected to mention is that the state’s Proposition 26 — an initiative that could potentially derail significant implementation of the Global Warming Act — passed.

Proposition 26 expands the definition of “tax” under California law to include some state and local fees. Fees that could previously be imposed by a simple majority vote  — generally those regulatory fees that address health, environmental or societal concerns — will now require a two-thirds “supermajority” or a vote of the people. Last week, environmental blogger Todd Woody told us, “the fear is that [Prop 26] would hinder the implementation of California’s global warming law because certain environmental fees that would be imposed to finance it … would probably be almost impossible” to pass with a two-thirds legislative vote.

At first blush, it might sound like bureaucratic nuance, but analysts say Prop 26 could mean dramatic changes in the implementation of the state’s health, safety and environmental laws. Before the election, the Legislative Analyst’s Office, a nonpartisan policy adviser to the California Legislature, said Prop 26 “could reduce government revenues and spending statewide by up to billions of dollars annually.” And a report from UCLA’s law school said that it could “erect significant barriers” to many environmental programs in California, including the Global Warming Act.

The measure didn’t get nearly the attention of its glamorous cousin, Prop 23. It had no ads starring James Cameron and major polling groups didn’t expend much effort on gauging support or opposition. But it was important enough that Chevron Corp., Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc. and Philip Morris USA Inc., as well as the California Chamber of Commerce – entities that largely sat out of the Prop 23 debate – spent millions of dollars to support Prop 26. According to Grist’s Brad Johnson, the Chamber spent at least $3.3 million and Chevron $2.5 million.

The “No on 26” campaign, such as it was, apparently didn’t connect the dots for voters between legislative protocol and environmental regulation. Critics of the measure argue that it will shift regulatory costs from industry to taxpayers, make it harder to raise fees on alcohol, petroleum and tobacco industries, and cut funding for pollution programs. The UCLA law school report claims Prop 26 will “undercut the principle that polluters should pay for the harms they cause” and “undermine the establishment of stable funding streams for key state environmental efforts,” like the Global Warming Solutions Act, “that have already been enacted but that are not yet well funded.”

That message didn’t win the day, though, and Prop 26 passed with 52.6 percent of the vote. In these tight economic times, its backers gained their victory by appealing to voters worried about the government’s ability to impose “hidden taxes” on the electorate.

As the week has worn on, reality is settling in and I’m seeing more mention of Prop 26 across the net. It now looks like the battle will move into the courts, so stow the green pom-poms for the time being as we wait to see how the climate fight plays out over the next few months.

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