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Election alert: Institute hosts Proposition 23 debate

This story updated Oct. 26.
When Glen MacDonald, director of UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, looks ahead to the November election, it's not the race for governor that looks most critical to him. It's the proposition that would delay reducing pollution, Proposition 23, that he thinks could have international repercussions.
A stack of newspapers, with sticking out so that the headline That's why IoES joined forces with the Los Angeles Times and local NPR station 89.3 KPCC to host a debate on the proposition. (Watch a video of the Oct. 21 debate here.)
"We're bringing the expertise of UCLA to the public, and also engaging the corporate world," MacDonald said. "We're trying to be a fair broker of reliable information. We're gathering the facts to inform not just the public, but also the private sector about the ramifications of voting yes or no."
Proposition 23 would postpone legislation that requires California to cut greenhouse gas emissions down to 1990 levels by 2020. The ballot initiative requires waiting for unemployment to reach 5.5 percent – about half the current number, and a level reached three times in 30 years, according to news reports citing state statistics.
"This is about what we can afford to do given the economy and the environment – and what we can't afford to pass up," MacDonald said. "It's the job of the university and our institute to bring up the facts from both sides, and to dissect those facts in a scholarly manner."
Proposition 23 supporters argue that California's economy is too fragile for businesses to withstand the cost of regulations to be imposed by AB 32, the greenhouse-gas-regulating legislation passed in 2006, MacDonald said.
"The 'no' campaign says we cannot afford to wait — that waiting could scuttle the clean-tech economy, which is what could lead California out of the economic doldrums," MacDonald said.
Arguing in favor of Prop 23 was Dorothy Rothrock, senior vice president of government affairs for the California Manufacturers and Technology Association and co-chair of the AB 32 implementation group. Arguing against was Terry Tamminen, CEO for Seventh Generation Advisors and former head of the California Environmental Protection Agency.
Patt Morrison, a Los Angeles Times columnist and KPCC radio show host, moderated the debate in Korn Hall at the Anderson School of Management. A panel of experts, including a UCLA environmental economist, a UCLA environmental law professor, a private attorney and an L.A. Times reporter, questioned the debaters.
That's what made the debate unique, said Madelyn Glickfeld, IoES assistant director of outreach and strategic initiatives.
"This panel of experts – faculty, journalists and people from the private sector – asked the challenging questions," she said. "It's not just another forum for the campaigns. It's real information. Voters hardly ever get that."
Matthew Kahn, an IoES professor with joint appointments in economics and public policy, asked some of those challenging questions.
"I would love to see employment below 5.5 percent, but I would be pleasantly surprised if that happens in the next five years," Kahn said. "The 5.5 percent is just a way to kill AB 32. This is really a vote on whether to move forward or not."
Kahn supports AB 32 and opposes Proposition 23's efforts to delay it, but he also acknowledges that there is uncertainty around AB 32.
"We don't know what its consequences will be for the trucking industry or other businesses that are energy-intensive," he said. "I see how honest individuals can have concerns. But California needs to reinvent itself with a new growth engine."
The green economy is that growth engine, Kahn said. California already has a nascent green economy just waiting to grow, and AB 32 sends clear signals to businesses and investors that they can pursue green options with confidence, Kahn said. It will take years, but it will be economically positive for the state, he said.
"This legislation will encourage California's green-venture capitalists to invest more, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy and help the state reinvent the economy as a green economy," Kahn said. "My question for the supporters of Prop 23 is, what do they think it will take for California to get its groove back? It's not aerospace. It's not Hollywood. Green industry is our best chance."
The rest of the country and the world are watching what California voters do, Glickfeld said.
"Given the lack of climate regulation at the national level, rolling back this legislation would be of national importance," she said. "It predicts whether or not there will be legislation at the national level."
"This is a terribly important decision that will affect our state and our nation, and have international repercussions," MacDonald said. "People need to think really hard about it and get out and vote. I just hope we can provide the critical information that voters need to make their decision. The eyes of the world are upon us on this one."
Learn more about Prop 23 in this UCLA News Week video, in which Economist Matthew Kahn & Los Angeles Times Editor-at-Large Jim Newton give their take on the proposition.
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