How green is Arnold?

The governor wants to make the environment his legacy

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was a no-show at his own environmental event (sidelined by a broken femur), so we decided to show you this car: a 100-mpg Toyota Prius hybrid with an ample trunk for your junk.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was a no-show at his own environmental event (sidelined by a broken femur), so we decided to show you this car: a 100-mpg Toyota Prius hybrid with an ample trunk for your junk.

Photo By Larry Dalton

The overarching theme of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s inaugural festivities last week was environmental preservation and awareness. And although the fête was by no means your typical GOP pomp and circumstance, many still are uncertain of Schwarzenegger’s “green” credentials and commitment to the environment.

Fuel-cell-powered autos ushered VIPs around downtown Sacramento and a 20-foot aquarium decorated the north steps of the Capitol. Big business showed its green colors during an Earth Day-esque event outside the Rotunda, where exhibitors passed out vegetables and organic foods to school kids. Bob Saget of Full House and former Sacramento King Vlade Divac pushed environmentalism on the governor’s behalf, and another speaker, Environmental Entrepreneurs co-founder Bob Epstein, even went so far as to accuse the Bush administration of being the “No. 1 threat to the environment.”

“California passed the world’s most comprehensive plan to reduce greenhouse gases. Why?” Schwarzenegger asked in his inaugural address. “Because although the United States represents only 5 percent of the world’s population, we emit 25 percent of the greenhouse gases.” Not your typical GOP rhetoric.

“I think [Schwarzenegger] was persuaded by Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth a lot, and I think he actually does believe that the planet is worse off than it has been in a long time,” said Barbara O’Connor, CSUS professor of communications. O’Connor noted that the governor “is a paradox in many ways”—he shills for Hummer but also wants to curb greenhouse-gas emissions—but that his green efforts appear to be in earnest. “I think he really genuinely believes in saving the planet, in saving the environment,” she said.

Others agree. Frank O’Donnell, president of the D.C.-based Clean Air Watch, stated that “the Schwarzenegger administration is quite sincere in trying to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, and doing so in the face of outright hostility from the federal government.” He credited the governor for paving the way for lawmakers to address issues like climate change on a national stage. “I think things like California’s standards are helping provide an impetus to bring those [changes] to the market more quickly than what might happen otherwise,” he said of business becoming more green-friendly in light of Schwarzenegger’s efforts.

If the governor’s inauguration is a sign of things to come, then there’s reason for optimism: The proceedings were environmentally friendly to a T. Ethanol cars and hydrogen BMWs were on display. Kids ate carrots and drank fresh juice. Even the garbage got the royal treatment: The “waste free” event was made possible by Waste Management, who took all the trash to a facility in Lodi where it was sorted through and recycled, re-used, reduced or returned.

And as for those fuel-cell taxis, Catherine Dunwoody, executive director of the California Fuel Cell Project in West Sacramento, said that the administration’s efforts have expedited automotive technologies. “California is the first place where every auto manufacturer in the state is working on a fuel-cell vehicle,” she noted, estimating that “limited-edition fleets” of fuel-cell vehicles will be available to the public by 2010.

That said, not everyone views Schwarzenegger as environmentally progressive. “The concern that a lot of folks have, especially those of us on the Democrat side of things, is how genuine is it?” questioned former Democratic spokesperson Roger Salazar. “Was it just for show in 2006, or is it something that he will really follow through on?”

It’s probably too early to rush to judgment. Salazar noted, however, that Assembly Bill 32, the global-warming initiative authored by Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, D-Los Angeles, and former Assemblywoman Fran Pavley, should be a barometer as to the viability of Schwarzenegger’s green stripes. “[Democrats] got a little bit concerned when—after passing AB 32 and having great press conferences—[Schwarzenegger] very quietly issued an executive order that sort of undermined some of the provisions in the legislation,” Salazar observed, suggesting the governor may not have the gall to stand up to big business, which balked at many of AB 32’s stipulations.

Sierra Club California senior legislative representative Bill Magavern claimed that business had a “big part” in the executive order. “He jumped the gun and really tried to short-circuit the process that was established in the law that he had just signed,” Magavern argued. AB 32 originally stated, according to Magavern, that the California Air Resources Board was to “study potential market mechanisms and go through a public process with public hearings … before adopting any pollution-trading scheme,” a course of action that was sidestepped with Schwarzenegger’s executive order. Magavern said that it’s way too premature to begin trading, especially with Northeastern states and European nations.

The governor vetoed three notable environmentally progressive laws in 2006 that passed in the Legislature: Assembly Bill 1012 would have required at least half of all cars and light trucks sold in California to run on clean alternative fuels, Senate Bill 927 would have funded pollution-preventing infrastructure improvements at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach (CARB has determined that pollution from the ports is responsible for 2,400 deaths and 1 million school absences annually), and Senate Bill 1796 would have restructured the State Reclamation Board to give it oversight of development projects and land use to ensure flood protection.

Legislative Republicans also present another obstacle for Schwarzenegger. Senate Minority Leader Dick Ackerman, R-Irvine, praised the governor for his “big vision” and desire “to tackle large problems,” but disagreed on the issue of climate change. “I’ve had a couple of discussions with him on global warming,” Ackerman said, “and obviously he’s getting information from one side, and I’m getting my information from another side, and there are some disagreements.” Like the Bush administration on the federal level, Republicans in California have yet to accept Schwarzenegger’s progressive side. But back in D.C., Clean Air Watch’s O’Donnell remarked that these attitudes are changing. “I think that you’re going to see a regional split,” he said. “I think you will see some Republicans joining with Democrats to promote attempts to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions,” as already has happened with Congress members in many Northeastern states.

Steve Maviglio, Assembly Speaker Núñez’s deputy chief of staff, viewed things along those lines. “When it comes to the environment, the governor has morphed into a Democrat,” he said. “The speaker pushed [Schwarzenegger] to embrace a cutting edge greenhouse-gas bill, and he’s found that it’s easy being green.”