2 members of air board exit, saying he pressured them
THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
SACRAMENTO, CA — Democratic state lawmakers are questioning Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s
commitment to fight global warming after the governor’s top deputies thwarted an attempt by the state’s air quality regulators to enact their own measure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The executive director of the California Air Resources Board, Catherine Witherspoon, resigned Monday — three days after Schwarzenegger fired the board’s chairman, Robert Sawyer, who had said he wanted to be more aggressive in curbing pollution that causes global warming than does the Republican governor, who signed the state’s landmark bill last year.
Sawyer, a 72-year-old engineer, made public on Monday a transcript of a voice mail, left on his phone by one of Schwarzenegger’s aides before the air board’s meeting last month, urging the chairman to adopt only the three rules acceptable to the governor.
“The governor has made his name across the world as the jolly green governor, and now we have the regulators saying his inner circle has pressured them to go slow because the big industries don’t want us to go too quickly,” said Jamie Court, president of the Foundation for Taxpayers and Consumer Rights, a consumer watchdog group.
Democratic legislative leaders also criticized Schwarzenegger for his office’s apparent role in determining the list of emissions-reducing rules that the 11-member air board approved on June 21.
Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez, D-Los Angeles, primary author of the global warming bill that requires the state to reduce greenhouse gases by 25 percent by 2020, called for an oversight hearing on Friday.
“The only reason why they’re gone is clear: The administration was tying their hands behind their backs in not allowing them to do the job that they needed to do,” Nuñez told reporters.
Schwarzenegger said Sawyer was fired for his lack of leadership, while Sawyer said he was terminated because he disobeyed edicts from the governor’s top aides to adopt three new regulations at its June meeting when he had wanted to approve a fourth rule, one requiring reflective automobile paints. The paint, by reducing the heat absorbed by cars, is supposed to cut down on the use of air conditioners.
The changes — requiring oil companies to produce gasoline with less carbon dioxide by 2010, prohibiting sales of refrigerant to replenish auto air conditioners and forcing landfills to curb methane emissions — were the first of several that the state is expected to approve in the next five years to meet the ambitious goals of the global warming measure.
Sawyer and two other board members voted against the three changes, saying they were insufficient.
The air board shakeup has as much to do with politics as air quality. After Schwarzenegger pledged to sign AB32, his chief of staff, Susan Kennedy, tried to shape the measure in the Legislature. After AB32 became law, the governor’s staff tried to control its implementation, according to lawmakers and others involved in passage of the bill.
Much of the responsibility for implementation rests with the air board, whose members are appointed by the governor, but who have a long history of independence.
“Every signal the board got from the governor’s office staff was, ‘Slow down, don’t hurt industry, don’t get ahead of us on greenhouse gases,’ ” Witherspoon said in an interview on Monday.
The state’s fight against global warming pits environmentalists against some of the most powerful special interests in the Capitol — oil companies, automakers, farmers, builders, manufacturers and other business entities who argue the costs of compliance will hamstring their profitability and competitiveness.
Since the bill took effect in January, those interest groups have sought a go-slow implementation of its policies. Cathy Reheis-Boyd, chief operating officer of the Western States Petroleum Association, said she believes the air quality rules already approved are challenging enough to industry.
“From my perspective… I think the governor has laid out an aggressive target in meeting the goals of AB32,” she said Monday.
Adam Mendelsohn, the governor’s communications director, said last week that the governor wanted the board to adopt more than the three items last month. But on Monday, Sawyer made public a transcript of a voice mail message sent to him by Dan Dunmoyer, Schwarzenegger’s Cabinet secretary, on the morning the board met.
Dunmoyer told Sawyer the governor’s office was “very comfortable” with those three items, but added: “We really prefer you to stick to the three that we believe are vetted well, that are likely to succeed. That is the direction from the governor’s office.”
Mendelsohn said Monday that the board’s lack of leadership held the list of recommended actions to three and added that Dunmoyer was trying to prevent the board from straying into adopting other policies that would prove ineffective.
“The air board was scrambling to put items on the table that neither made sense nor would have an impact. They potentially were going beyond their legal authority, especially the cool paints initiative,” Mendelsohn said. “When Dunmoyer called, it was to stop them from moving forward with regulations that had no impact and made no sense.”
But Bill Magavern, a Sierra Club lobbyist, said Dunmoyer’s message shows that the governor’s top aide was trying to “dictate to the air board chair that he not take any more actions to reduce global warming pollutions — and really second-guess the scientific judgment of the eminent scientist the governor appointed to lead the board.”