Time for a Real Debate on the Cost of Climate Programs

John Kabateck
President of Kabateck Strategies, and former CA Executive Director of NFIB

Finally, it’s here. A spirited, inclusive, and extremely critical debate over the true costs of California’s climate programs to our economy, small businesses, and working families.

On the heels of an abysmal voter turnout in this month’s election, the emergence of a growing chorus of diverse voices on a vital public policy issue should be welcomed news. It turns out, however, that certain state officials and other vested interests are not interested in debating the costs imposed on small business by California’s broad environmental policies.

But their actions have awoken a sleeping giant. Although CARB made no effort to hear concerns, and debate was shut down in the state legislature, people who are learning about the “hidden gas tax” have started speaking up and working together. From small business owners in the Bay Area to farmers in the Central Valley, religious leaders in San Diego to a mobile health clinic operator in the Inland Empire, consumers from throughout the state are banding together. This movement of drivers and fuel users has serious questions and concerns about the unilateral process used to increase household costs, particularly at a time of high unemployment and economic uncertainty.

To date, the cost of California’s programs to reduce greenhouse gases, subsidize the development of alternative energy, and change consumers’ purchasing choices and modes of transportation has been perceived by many to be someone else’s problem: large industrial energy users.

In this dynamic, the cost to real people – and the disproportionate burden on the low-income – has been mostly invisible, but still very real. As a result, everyday voters have been left out of the debate, which has been limited to just a few interests: industry, government, the environmental lobby, and those who benefit financially from cap-and-trade revenue.

Enter the “hidden gas tax,” the California Air Resources Board’s (CARB) plan to expand its cap-and-trade program to gasoline and diesel next January. For the first time, state government is knowingly imposing the cost of its climate programs onto consumers in the form of higher fuel prices.

In response…CARB offered no response at all. They denied that their program was intended to raise costs or that fuel prices would increase next year, despite the fact that their own expert advisors were stating publically that prices at the pump would go up significantly.

What’s more, CARB claimed this wasn’t an issue of consumers. Rather, it was an “oil industry” issue. They went one step further and claimed that drivers didn’t need a public forum on the “hidden gas tax” because the board had held various workshops over the years attended by…you guessed it…environmental groups, bureaucrats, and big business and industry.

In short, CARB only wants to debate “Sacramento insiders,” not the millions of impacted Californians.

So it goes with the environmental lobby. At every turn, the organizations voicing concerns about the hit on jobs and working families have been dismissed as “front groups” and marginalized as “Astroturf”—all part of an elaborate oil industry “conspiracy.”

To their way of thinking, there are only two points of view: theirs and the oil industry. Either you buy into their worldview lock-stock-and-barrel or you are just a puppet on a string. If you’re looking to create your own space in the debate, they are not about to oblige. Unfortunately, every person in the state is impacted by their policies every time they make a purchase or drive their car.

These groups could promote the benefits and the costs of programs to combat climate change and welcome a vigorous debate. Instead, they would prefer to shoot the messenger and silence those with whom they do not agree.

Doubling down on ad hominem attacks may make for salacious blogs and sensational news copy, but it won’t keep the debate at bay for long. It is time for every Californian to ask questions and fight for their right to be heard by those charged with representing them, and not accept being told “it’s in your best interest”. So bring on the debate!

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