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In California, Climate Politics Are Tricky... For Republicans

Conventional wisdom holds that global warming is a losing issue for political candidates. But that's certainly not the case in California, where Republicans are actually getting into trouble for opposing the state's climate law:

A November ballot measure that would rescind California's landmark global warming bill until unemployment drops significantly has become an albatross for the Republican candidates for governor and U.S. Senate.

For months, Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina have struggled with competing imperatives: appeasing members of their party who want to suspend the global warming bill while wooing environmentally-conscious independent voters who could carry them to victory in November.

What makes California different? Part of it is that the state's voters are pretty eco-friendly—more than two-thirds of them support California's AB32, which aims to cut emissions to 1990 levels in the next decade (and 80 percent by 2050). And more than half of voters say that the state shouldn't even wait for the economy to improve before cutting emissions.

But here's an even bigger factor: Business groups in California are split on the issue. Sure, the oil and gas industry is throwing a lot of money at the ballot initiative that would suspend AB32. And the California Manufacturers and Technology Association has come out against the global-warming legislation. But, against that, a number of well-funded tech companies in Silicon Valley want AB32 to go forward—they have a lot invested in the state's burgeoning renewable and efficiency industries. As a result, California's Chamber of Commerce is staying neutral on the repeal question.

Is any of this applicable to the congressional climate debate? Obviously U.S. voters as a whole are never going to be as liberal as Californians. But over the past year, there has been a slow split in business lobbying on climate change. In the old days, most companies were against any sort of cap on carbon emissions. But lately we've seen companies like Apple, PG&E, and Duke Energy part ways with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on the issue.

Meanwhile, as the renewable-energy industry grows (thanks in part to all that funding in the stimulus), wind and solar companies will throw more and more money into pushing for carbon caps. All told, the clean-energy lobby has grown twelve-fold since 1998. The American Wind Energy Association, for instance, spent $5 million on lobbying in 2010—up from $2 million in 2008. Of course, the trouble is that the American Petroleum Institute blows that kind of cash in a single quarter, so unlike in California, we're a long, long way from interest-group parity here. But the gap's starting to narrow.

P.S. Also of interest is this post by UCLA economist Matthew Kahn, who revisited the question of whether AB32 would hurt California manufacturing. He used to think it would, but, upon further study, he's no longer so sure. 

(Flickr photo credit: furiousjethro)