Secret Budget Negotiations Threaten California's Public Health and Environment

Jun 21, 2011

It’s the untold story of California’s budget crisis.

A handful of ideological Republicans are pushing proposals in secret budget negotiations with Governor Jerry Brown’s office that would enable an obscure administrative agency to delay, possibly indefinitely, safeguards that protect not only public health and the environment, but also rules that protect public safety.

Safeguards that make our buildings safe from fire and earthquakes. Regulations to improve safety at our nuclear power plants. Rules that protect the safety of the blood supply in hospitals. Common-sense laws that protect consumers from financial fraud. Even regulations to prevent discrimination. All of these could be delayed.

The proposals to dismantle common-sense protections and safeguards are modeled on federal processes that have given the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) unique authority over federal regulations. This effort to imitate the federal process in California could hardly be more ill-timed. For example, despite a string of deaths and hospitalizations across Europe from a new strain of E-coli bacteria, National Public Radio recently reported that OMB has delayed for 5 months new regulations proposed by the Food and Drug Administration to inspect hamburger for new strains of E-coli.

The Republicans’ strategy has a chance of success only because this group of ideologues is using the leverage of the minority in the budget crisis and because these negotiations are conducted in utter secrecy. This is a complete abuse of California’s budget process. These proposals could never survive the light of day of the normal legislative process nor get majority approval.

The severity of the budget crisis and the absence of progress on a resolution, unfortunately, makes these proposals a very real threat. Cynically, these proposals are being promoted not to reduce the size of government (which is the real agenda) but under the guise of job creation.

These demands demonstrate once again the unwillingness of extreme-right Republicans to face facts: that the huge jobs losses that California has sustained have been caused not by over-regulation, but a lack of regulation of the finance and mortgage industries. Once more: it is the lack of regulation that has decimated the California economy.

Conversely, the reality is that regulations create jobs. California’s green jobs—jobs that owe their existence to regulations—are growing three times faster than the overall economy. The top category of green jobs is in manufacturing. These jobs would probably not exist in California without our regulations.

Nearly one-quarter of all the clean energy investment in the world comes to California, again principally because of our regulations. Our climate and clean energy law AB 32 is expected to create 1.2 million jobs in California.

Facts, unfortunately, do not disturb those who breathe only the highly purified air of ideology.

In the real world, there is strong support for California regulations from the business community. Business leaders helped lead the fight stop Proposition 23, which would have repealed California’s clean energy law AB 32. Business leaders were leading supporters of this year’s new requirement that 33% of California’s electricity be generated from renewable sources. AB 32 itself was adopted in 2006 with broad support from the business community.

The facts show that regulations encourage innovation. The 50% drop in the price of photovoltaic solar panels last year is only the most recent example of innovation spurred by regulation. New and better incandescent light bulbs have been developed to meet energy efficiency standards that were previously thought attainable only by compact fluorescent bulbs. New flat screen televisions not only use less electricity, but also produce a better picture. Automobiles complying with new fuel efficiency standards not only use less gasoline, but they operate more smoothly and accelerate more quickly. Powder-based paint developed to reduce air pollution is not only easier to apply; it is more durable. This is only a short list of examples.

The budget crisis generated by California’s recession is truly horrible and it will be deeply painful to many families all around the state. However painful it is, it will eventually pass.

However, these so-called “reforms” could harm our economy, our public health, our communities and our environment for decades. We must not let the extreme right-wing, in secret, to exploit the pain of this crisis to dismantle California’s ability to grow a clean energy economy and protect the health and welfare of our friends and neighbors.

Tom Adams

Past President, Board of Directors

California League of Conservation Voters



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