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 Spring 2011

Activist Diary

Big Victory against Big Oil

During the November 2010 elections, one issue garnered more votes than any other initiative or candidate in the entire country: global warming. In California, nearly six million people came to the polls to reject a multi-million-dollar campaign by oil companies and other polluters to block Assembly Bill (AB) 32, the state’s landmark program to reduce global warming emissions. UCS played an integral role in ensuring a positive outcome.

Our work on the campaign began early last spring when we learned that Texas-based oil companies Valero and Tesoro had hired signature gatherers to qualify a ballot initiative, Proposition 23, they hoped would stall climate action not just in California but nationwide. Prop. 23—the first statewide referendum on global warming in the United States—would have suspended AB 32 until the state unemployment rate fell to 5.5 percent for a full year. The oil companies knew full well this has happened only three times in the last 40 years, and is not expected to recur for years to come.

As part of the “No on Prop. 23” campaign team, UCS helped build a bipartisan coalition of more than 1,000 businesses, unions, health experts, environmental organizations, community and social-justice groups, and local governments that support AB 32. This diverse group, representing a wide variety of backgrounds and perspectives, helped to expose the oil companies’ deceptive advertising and demonstrate that climate and clean energy policies create jobs, improve air quality, and protect public health.

Getting Out the Vote

UCS staff, board members, donors, and activists stepped up like never before to ensure that California’s climate policies would be protected. Over the course of a few short months, UCS undercut the oil companies’ dire economic warnings with an analysis showing that AB 32 will have a barely noticeable impact on small businesses and organized a letter to California policy makers signed by 118 Ph.D. economists stating that delaying climate action would prove costly to the state. We also distributed more than 33,000 information cards, helped UCS activists organize 80 house parties in more than 60 cities across the state, and held several public events, including one I spoke at in Los Angeles that drew about 100 attendees.

In addition, more than 350 volunteers and 50 UCS employees from across the country called nearly 20,000 UCS members and likely green voters in the state, explaining the negative impact Prop. 23 could have on the economy and environment. One volunteer told me how a person she called said he was voting yes on Prop. 23 because he was out of work and needed a job; she replied that she was unemployed too, but was voting no because AB 32 would bring clean energy jobs to California. The man changed his mind.

The People Have Spoken

The fact that Prop. 23 and the big polluters were defeated soundly—by a 23 percent margin—sent ripples across the world, injecting hope into the international climate negotiations in Cancun. It also spurred California to adopt the world’s most comprehensive cap-and-trade program in December, which will go into effect early next year. We hope that other states and, ultimately, Capitol Hill will look to California and see that American voters want to shift away from the fossil fuel status quo and build a clean energy economy.

—Erin Rogers, western region manager in the UCS Climate and Energy Program

Learn more about our successful "No on Prop. 23" campaign.