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Could California's Green Experiment Come To An End?

Do Republicans have to go green to have any prayer of winning a statewide race in California? For awhile, it sure looked that way. Back in 2006, Arnold Schwarzenegger managed to revive his gasping campaign by reinventing himself as an environmentalist. He scampered around the state in a lime-colored bus with a Yosemite National Park vista spray-painted on the side, scissored his way through all manners of ribbons on solar-paneled schools and the like, and signed A.B. 32, a bill that aimed to cut California's carbon-dioxide emissions 25 percent by 2020. He coasted to re-election that fall. Straightforward, no?

Well, now Meg Whitman's about to test this little theory. Yesterday, the GOP gubernatorial candidate announced that, if she wins the race to succeed Schwarzenegger in 2010, she plans to roll back A.B. 32 by executive order. "We have too many overreaching environmental regulations that have left us at an economic disadvantage to our neighboring states." (Don't tell that to Arnold, who just yesterday was dubbing the state's booming renewable-energy industry a new "California gold rush," and lauded the $6 billion in venture-capital money flowing into local green technology companies.)

Now, who knows, maybe Whitman's stance could gain traction in a recession. But to bring this back to a discussion going on here in Washington, Whitman's pledge does show that climate rules crafted by the executive branch are much less stable in the face of ever-shifting political winds. The 2006 California climate law punted most of the major regulatory decisions on greenhouse gases to the executive branch—that made it easier to pass—and so it wouldn't be too difficult for Whitman to come in and dismantle everything Schwarzenegger's done. That's worth watching now that a lot of observers are suggesting Obama tackle carbon through EPA rules if Congress can't pass a bill.