Two months ago, I wrote a story about how Arnold Schwarzenegger is not that great on the environment, and the hype surrounding His Greenitude is largely a media creation. Today, the LA Times gets around to the same thing, in what is actually a brave move to rewrite the narrative by using the actual facts.
Back home, environmentalists see the governor’s green credentials as thin.
The governor has taken more than $1 million in campaign money from the oil industry, whose products contribute to the greenhouse gas buildup that Schwarzenegger says he wants to roll back. And he is not reliable in using his bill-signing powers to protect the environment, activists say.
more on the flip…
Each year, the California League of Conservation Voters puts out an annual scorecard that rates the governor on a scale of 0 to 100, based on the environmental bills he has signed or vetoed. Last year, Schwarzenegger’s grade was 50, down from the previous two years when he logged a 58.
Gray Davis, the governor Schwarzenegger ousted in the 2003 recall, scored 75 in 2002 and 85 the year before that.
“Despite the governor’s public embrace of the environment, his record on signing good environmental bills into law remains mediocre,” the league said in its annual report card.
I don’t expect the national media to understand this. After all, Arnold’s bringing sexy back to the environment. But locally, there has to be some pushback against this absurd notion that the guy with the fleet of Hummers is the nation’s biggest environmentalist. In fact, within the article, Peter Nicholas explains that this is all mainly an election strategy:
…audio recordings of the governor’s private meetings show that his aides have seen political value in making the environment a pet issue.
“Every four or five weeks, we’re going to spend an entire week on the environment,” the governor’s communications director, Adam Mendelsohn, told him in a private meeting in early 2006. ” … I do not believe it’s smart politics here in California to not talk about your environmental stuff.” […]
In the recordings, Schwarzenegger seems to wonder if people would accept a high-living, Hummer-driving ex-muscleman as an environmentalist.
“Here I was driving Hummers,” he says at one point. “I don’t know if I leave myself open here by calling myself an environmentalist. So we should just be aware of that.”
(These were the real revelations in the not-so-secret Schwarzenegger tapes, not the “hot-blooded” nonsense.)
I would argue that now, Arnold’s green lip service keeps him nationally relevant, and keeps his approval ratings up. He’s a decent environmental governor for a Republican, but he falls well short of even Gray Davis’ record. This makes him useful to the environmental movement, as they can say “See, even a REPUBLICAN supports our cause,” but it doesn’t do much to roll back global warming pollution, up 18% since 1990.
Nicholas also remembers something the whole country never knew – that he didn’t write AB 32, and it wasn’t a slam dunk that he would support it:
With only one day left in the legislative session, it was by no means certain that Schwarzenegger would sign the bill. Powerful interests stood in opposition. Business groups – the core of Schwarzenegger’s fund-raising base – feared that it would jack up costs.
Schwarzenegger wanted business-friendly provisions that would allow companies to trade emissions credits, meaning some could pay for the right to pollute.
The governor’s office offered “a number of amendments that would have watered down provisions of the mandatory reductions,” Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez (D-Los Angeles), a coauthor of the bill, said in an interview.
A game of chicken followed. Nuñez told the governor’s staff that he would push forward with or without Schwarzenegger’s support. The governor threatened to veto the bill if his changes weren’t adopted, Nuñez said.
With Nuñez poised to tell a news conference that he was proceeding alone and Schwarzenegger needing legislative achievements to fuel his reelection campaign, the governor signed on. The trading system Schwarzenegger wanted is allowed under the law but is not mandatory.
“It was touch-and-go until the very end as to whether or not the governor would sign the bill,” said Ann Notthoff, California advocacy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, who was involved in the discussions.
We all know that he vetoed other environmental bills. We know that his appointee voted to approve the environmentally harmful BHP Billiton LNG Terminal which was thankfully stopped by Democrats on the Land Commission panel. We know that Senate Democrats are so fed up with his lax regulation of AB 32 that they offered a raft of new legislation to fight global warming.
I believe that environmental activists don’t speak up about this much because they find Arnold to be a useful advocate. He can be heard by groups that would normally tune out the message. And that’s helpful. But they should use this as a lever to get real action and change in California. Every threatened veto, every slip on legislation, they should be tied to Arnold like an anvil. “He talks the talk but refuses to walk the walk.” That’s how an effective environmental movement would act.