Energy & Environment

How Green Is He Really?

Arnold Schwarzenegger's first term has pleased environmentalists. It's the second term they're worried about.
by | October 2006

The environmental movement is wondering what Arnold Schwarzenegger will do for an encore. When he signed off last month on a bill to bring down California's greenhouse-gas emissions by 25 percent in 15 years, he capped a whole series of highly visible environmental initiatives that has earned him high marks from green-minded voters.

But environmental activists are a little nervous. They fear that in a second term--assuming he wins one next month--Arnold might take off his green uniform altogether. Schwarzenegger has a history of changing course abruptly on many of the state's crucial issues, and what's more, charges Bill Magavern of the Sierra Club, "he's had a pattern of making environmental promises that he does not fulfill."

That may sound a little ungenerous. Schwarzenegger has certainly compiled a stronger pro-environment record than most Republican governors. Weeks before reaching an agreement with legislators on the greenhouse-gas bill, Schwarzenegger gained international attention by announcing an accord with British Prime Minister Tony Blair to curb global warming. The implications were obvious: California was doing something about the problem, even if the feds weren't.

Schwarzenegger has aggressively pushed solar power, aiming to put panels on 1 million residential and commercial rooftops. When legislators balked at the price tag, he persuaded the Public Utilities Commission to proceed anyway. He has fought the Bush administration by opposing offshore oil drilling and road building in wilderness areas. All of these efforts earned the governor high marks in a July poll that found him leading in his reelection bid among voters who consider environmental problems important.

So why aren't activists applauding more loudly? Well, as in many areas, it's actually a mixed record. Despite the high-profile activity, Schwarzenegger has vetoed some clean air and water bills and spent much of the summer lobbying to weaken the global warming bill before finally signing off on it.

More worrisome from a green point of view, he no longer has the services of Terry Tamminen, the energy and environment adviser who came into Schwarzenegger's orbit through Kennedy family connections. Tamminen left earlier this year, and many of Schwarzenegger's other environmental appointees have been much more friendly to industry and development interests. "Terry has been our strongest ally in the administration by far," says Rico Mastrodonato, of the California League of Conservation Voters.

If Schwarzenegger wins next month, environmentalists will have to work harder to get their concerns heard. But that's only partly because Tamminen is gone. It's also because the governor has given them so much already. He may not be in a mood to go much further.

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