With real energy reform and/or climate change legislation completely stalled on Capitol Hill, the fight for environmentalists is in the states. One of the most important fights for the environmental movement right now is against big oil’s Proposition 23, which would cripple California’s landmark greenhouse gas legislation. Fortunately for the environmental movement, the fight seems to be going well. Voters significantly oppose the ballot measure, according to the latest Field Poll (PDF).

Field Poll (PDF) (9/14-21)
Proposition 23 suspends implementation of the air pollution law, AB 32, requiring major sources of emissions to report and reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming until unemployment drops to 5.5 percent or less for a full year. Fiscal impact: Likely modest net increase in overall economic activity from suspension of greenhouse gases regulatory activity, resulting in a potentially significant net increase in state and local revenues. If the election were being held today, would you vote YES or NO on Proposition 23?

Yes 34
No 45
Undecided 21

Overall opposition to Prop 23 has remained effectively unchanged since July, when 36 percent said they would vote for it and 48 percent said they would vote against it. With a plurality against Prop 23 and most undecided voters traditionally breaking toward “no” on ballot measures, it looks like Prop 23 is heading for defeat–unless the multi-million dollar campaign being financed by big oil can dramatically swing voters.

A quick look at the donations in support of Proposition 23 shows that almost all the money has come from a handful of oil companies and oil interests including Valero, Tesoro, Occidental Petroleum, and the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association.

The huge stakes at play

Proposition 23 was very cleverly crafted. It doesn’t claim to directly eliminate California climate change law AB32, it would just “suspend” it until the state’s unemployment stays below a fairly unrealistic 5.5% for a full year. This trick was done so that supporters of Prop 23 can spin it as a “pro-jobs” ballot measure, instead running it as a straight anti-green energy reform proposition.

If Prop 23 does win, it would be a devastating blow to the environmental movement. Opponents of climate change mitigation would ignore the underhanded campaign emphasizing jobs during the worse economic downturn in decades, and would simply trumpet the message that not even liberal California supports greenhouse gas reduction legislation. I guarantee you Prop 23’s success would be used in a full-scale PR assault in order to make politicians all over the country afraid to tackle climate change. Ideally, the environmental movement will use the proposition’s defeat in a similar manner–but first they must make sure it loses.