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Environmental connections to public health >>

Last Action Hero: The Sequel

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

A couple of months ago, I ranted against the mainstream news media's rush to hail Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as an environmental hero. His feel-good, pro-consumption, technology-will-save-us brand of green just seemed too easy, too politically expedient and too soft on industry for me. In short, I outed myself as what the governor would call a no-fun, tree-hugging, Prohibitionist at the frat party.

Now the California Air Resources Board, the agency in charge of turning the governor's declaration of war on global warming into actual policies, is suffering a very messy public meltdown. The story is full of he-said/she-saids, finger-pointing and, duh, politics. But it seems to start with interference by the Schwarzenegger Administration – some say Arnold's advisers, some say the governor himself – aimed at softening or slowing down the board's tough global-warming regs to make them easier on industry.

Last week Schwarzenegger fired the chairman of the air board, saying he had refused to back the Administration's "early action steps" on global warming and air pollution. Not so, said the ousted chair, I was fired because I argued that those steps didn't go far enough. Yesterday, the air board's executive director quit in protest, saying:

"I believe the governor cares deeply about air quality, but no one in his inner circle does. The day-to-day orders that we receive from the Governor's Office are to do less, to delay, to not burden industry."

Then came a report in today's LA Times that even as the governor has been jet-setting around the world preaching the need for bold action on global warming, back home his administration is helping the construction industry stall tough new air quality rules. Scientists say the 112,000 tractors, backhoes and other construction vehicles in the state are California's second-largest source of diesel pollution; the industry, as usual, is crying that spending more money on cleaner equipment will slow down the economy and cost jobs. (For more, check out Angry Toxicologist.)

If you follow environmental politics in Sacramento, it's hardly breaking news that the governor's talk is greener than his walk. Arnold's minions are also working to kill this year's most ambitious environmental legislation, a bill calling for a ban on all remaining brominated and chlorinated fire retardants. But this air board mess calls into question the depth of his commitment on what's supposed to be his signature environmental issue. He's running head-on into the painful truth – well beyond inconvenience – that stopping or slowing global warming is not going to be easy. It's going to be hard, harder than most of us can imagine, and there's no way to make it palatable to industries who want to keep doing business as usual. If he really wants to be an environmental hero, Schwarzenegger had better muster the political will to match his rhetoric.

(This just in: Schwarzenegger has named a new chair of the air board: Mary Nichols, who headed the ARB under former Gov. Jerry Brown, was chief of the air division at U.S. EPA in the Clinton Administration, and then was state Resources Secretary under former Gov. Gray Davis. She's not the type to go easy on industry, so maybe she'll lend Arnold a backbone.)

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