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Jul 27, 2007 - 01:00 AM

by Paul Rosenberg, Senior Editor

Gov. Schwarzenegger's Global Warming Act Called Hot Air; Governor Fires Sawyer Then Denies It

On Thursday, June 28, the Robert Sawyer, Chair of the California Air Resources Board (CARB), resigned with hearty thanks from Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"Dr. Sawyer took on one of the most critical jobs in all of government: keeping California's air clean and safe," Gov. Schwarzenegger said in a prepared statement. "He fought tirelessly for California's bold vehicle emission standards and did an outstanding job launching the world's first low-carbon fuel standard for transportation vehicles."

But it was a lie.

Sawyer did not resign. Gov. Schwarzenegger fired him. Apparently for wanting to do too much to fight global warming.

"I was fired, I did not resign," Sawyer told the L. A. Times almost immediately. "The entire issue is the independence of the board, and that's why I got fired."

Weeks later, Gov. Schwarzenegger spokesperson Bill Maile gave Random Lengths Official Story 3.0: "Robert Sawyer was given the option to resign, but when he did not, his appointment was rescinded."

But an open letter from Sawyer to Gov. Schwarzenegger released earlier this month said that Sawyer learned of his firing when Gov. Schwarzenegger's chief of staff, Susan Kennedy, "informed me that you had rescinded my appointment five days earlier."

The firing followed Sawyer's vote against a package of three global warming "early action measures" that he regarded as inadequate.

The next Monday, CARB 's executive officer Catherine Witherspoon resigned, blasting the Administration for duplicity and delay. "I've had it with contradictory signals from the governor's office, and micromanagement on the side of delay and public statements chastising us for not doing more," she said.

The lie about Sawyer's firing was only the tip of the iceberg, however. Since Sawyer's firing, not only has Gov. Schwarzenegger's "Jolly Green Giant" image taken on an ogre-ish tinge, a contrasting image much like President Bush's has increasingly come into focus.

Last year. Democratic gubernatorial nominee Phil Angelides tried repeatedly to link Gov. Schwarzenegger with Bush. But the rest of the Democratic Party seemed bent on undermining his message, capped by the historic passage and signing of AB 32 -- a sweeping law to roll back greenhouse gases 25 percent by 2020. This allowed Gov. Schwarzenegger to campaign as an environmental champion. Just three weeks later, however, he issued Executive Order S-17-06, which, much like Bush's numerous signing statements, effectively undermined and reversed the law it was supposed to reinforce.

To pass AB 32, Gov. Schwarzenegger had dropped his insistence on an unproven market-based "cap-and-trade" system that would allow those who reduce greenhouse gases to sell credits to those who keep generating them. Rather than being central, cap-and-trade would only be allowed as an option in 2012, after a full spectrum of regulatory measures were established. S-17-06 not only reinstated cap-and-trade on an equal footing, it shifted responsibility and created an entirely new structure for developing policies.

Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, AB 32's principal author, responded by calling S-17-06 "totally inconsistent with the intent of the law and with the way that it is written."

Sawyer's firing has opened the floodgates to a surge of further Bush comparisons, most notably to Bush's manipulation of the Department of Justice, as epitomized in the US Attorneys scandal. In both cases, appointees served at the pleasure of those who appointed them, but historically had been left alone to do their jobs with minimal outside pressure. In both cases, the firings involved suspicious timing. In both cases, the firings were initially misrepresented as voluntary resignations. In both cases, highly political close personal aides who lacked policy knowledge played leading roles in politicizing the process behind closed doors. In both cases, those aides may have broken the law. In both cases, minority rights appear to have been violated. And in both cases. legislative attempts to get to the bottom of what happened have been thwarted by executive refusal to allow some of those responsible to testify about what went on.

A Meddler By Proxy

There are also obvious differences. Unlike the US Attorneys, Sawyer's position as CARB Chair would rightfully be strengthened by a close working relationship with the governor. Yet, in a letter to Gov. Schwarzenegger the week after his firing. Sawyer wrote, "My single regret is that is that you and I never once met during the past 1 8 months to discuss any of the critical air quality or global warming issues facing California." In the absence of direct contact. Sawyer wrote. "[Y|our staff has interjected itself in a manner that has compromised the independence and integrity of the board."

"He's not just disengaged. He's a meddler by proxy," said Judy Dugan, research director at the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR) "He uses others to carry out jobs he would find distasteful."

FTCR has been calling for the firing of Cabinet Secretary Dan Dunmoyer for months. Dunmoyer -- one of the key aids involved in Sawyer's firing -- is a former insurance industry lobbyist who authored a 2002 Karl Rove-styled memo calling for all out war on the industry's "enemies."

As for timing, although Gov. Schwarzenegger's chief of staff, Susan Kennedy, five days after the fact, only told Sawyer he was fired just after voting against a package of three global warming "early action measures" called for under AB 32. because he regarded them as inadequate.

"We're beginning a process that's going to save our planet," said San Mateo County Supervisor Jerry Hill, another CARB member who voted with Sawyer. "I don't think it's inappropriate for us to move rapidly."

The week Sawyer's firing became public, Gov. Schwarzenegger's communications director, Adam Mendelsohn, said that Gov. Schwarzenegger wanted CARB to adopt more items -- a message consistent with Gov. Schwarzenegger's carefully-crafted image, but also another lie.

The next Monday. Sawyer released a transcript of a Dunmoyer voicemail message saying the governor's office was "very comfortable" with the three items, adding. "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."

This secret meddling may even have been illegal, since AB 32 expressly states that, "The state board [CARBJ shall adopt rules and regulations in an open public process."

The process generated many more early action items, according to Angela Johnson-Meszaros. cochair of the Global Warming Environmental Justice Advisory Committee (EAJC).

"We submitted 31, and they received 96 overall that were outlined in their report," she told Random Lengths. "We were trying to look for things the state could do right now that would have the most benefit, not just for climate change, but for co-pollutants" since communities of color are systematically harder hit by those co-pollutants.

EAJC also tried to protect against poorly crafted actions that could harm low-income communities of color. That's why it recommended against one of the three measures that were approved, a Gov. Schwarzenegger favorite, the Low Carbon Fuel Standard. EAJC cited "serious unanswered questions about the possibility of increasing" co-pollutants, and the threat of increased pollution due to bio-fuel production, as well as increasing food insecurity.

Instead EAJC recommendations included well-studied measures, including port electrification, a green ship incentive program, and accelerated replacement of cargo handling equipmentall ignored for now.

Restoring CARB's Independence

Assembly member Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley ) is Chair of the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources, which held a hearing to investigate the firings. Dunmoyer and Kennedy both refused to attend, echoing similar refusals by Bush Administration officials. But Sawyer and Witherspoon both appeared.

"Their stories of the continued and unrelenting efforts to water the law down were very troubling," Hancock told Random Lengths. "There is no more important task for our generation than to turn around global warming. We may not have a livable planet to leave our grandchildren," she stressed.

She then patiently explained the step-by-step process within the law that Gov. Schwarzenegger has tried to disrupt. Not only has the early action provision been undermined, Gov. Schwarzenegger continues trying to push a carbon-trading program, which isn't supposed to even be considered until 2012.

"We have no model," Hancock said flatly about carbon-trading. "The European model is widely viewed as having failed, and they're going back to the drawing board."

After Sawyer's firing, Hancock thinks a more direct approach is called for to ensure the law is independently carried out. Recalling the example of the Coastal Commission, she said it was time to establish fixed terms, so the governor could not just fire someone at will.

Since Senate and Assembly leaders also appoint Coastal Commission members, Random Lengths asked if Hancock and her colleagues were considering that as well.

"Yes we are," she replied. "The mandate of AB 32 is so broad and so important that we really need to enlarge the conversation, and recognize we need to bring in both the branches of the legislature."

The legislative counsel is working on language, which Hancock expects will be passed by the legislature in August, as an amendment to an existing bill.

But it appears that Gov. Schwarzenegger may be digging in his heels for another fight.

"The ARB has been a very stable board with some members serving for many years." said spokesperson Maile, obviously ignoring Sawyer's firing. "We see no problem with the current structure of the board that would require such change. And it would not be prudent to reappoint the board when they are in the middle of implementing AB 32."

Gov. Schwarzenegger was eager to add another appointment of his own, however. He quickly sought to end the controversy by appointing a highly regarded replacement, Mary Nichols, who chaired CARB under Jerry Brown, and held a high-level post in Clinton's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). AtĚ an initial hearing before the Senate Rules Committee, Nichols was warmly received. She expressed a strong commitment to CARB's mission, including its work with local air boards, such as the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD), which has had serious ongoing differences with CARB for several years now -- a move that was welcomed by AQMD's Executive Officer Dr. Barry Wallerstein who said he was, "Looking forward to working with Mary Nichols."

But Nichols, like Gov. Schwarzenegger, has a mixed record, as highlighted in an article by Nicholas Miller in the weekly Sacramento News and Review. Her husband, attorney John Daum, represented Exxon in the infamous Exxon Valdez oil spill case Baker v. Exxon, and Nichols herself played a key roll in promoting an "emissions-trading" approach to pollution control at Clinton's EPA that ultimately collapsed.

"Mary Nichols certainly understands the issues, but she's also a longtime creature of the political system in California," FTCR's Judy Dugan told Random Lengths. "The question will be how she balances her instinct to compromise with the urgent need of greenhouse gas reduction."

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