“What [Regions20] is all about is, let’s not freeze--let’s move forward on the subnational level, let’s not be at a standstill,” Schwarzenegger said. He cited the California law's target--reducing carbon pollution 25 percent by 2020. “Imagine if every state does that. This is the power that states have--they can do that. If states can do it, then provinces in Canada and China can do it. Cities in Italy can do it.”
That’s exactly what has happened with climate-change policy in the U.S., as Obama has tried but failed to enact a national law. In 2010, he pushed Congress to pass a cap-and-trade law similar to California’s. But the bill failed in the Senate, and Republicans turned “cap-and-trade” into a toxic political catchphrase. Although Obama has said he would like to make climate change a top priority in a second term, it’s hard to imagine that he’ll be able to get congressional Republicans to embrace the return of a major climate-change bill--especially after a presidential campaign in which almost every GOP contender openly questioned the science of climate change.
“I think the president is pushing the issue as much as he can,” Schwarzenegger said. But that’s why, he said, the future of national climate policy will depend on building momentum from the state level.
Of Republicans who denounce climate science, he said, “I pay very little attention to what they say before an election. The very people that screamed before the election that 'Over my dead body we’ll raise taxes' are the same ones that are now going to agree to raise taxes.”
Throughout his political and advocacy career, Schwarzenegger’s secret climate weapon has been Terry Tamminen, a California Democratic energy-policy strategist. When the movie star first considered running for governor, he recruited Tamminen to write his energy policy--including the cap-and-trade climate plan, which became the model for the 2006 AB-32 law.
After he won the governorship, Schwarzenegger appointed Tamminen to head his Environmental Protection Agency and to be his chief policy adviser--a job from which Tamminen took a sabbatical in 2008, to work on energy and climate policy for Obama’s first presidential campaign. In that role, Tamminen helped craft candidate Obama’s energy and climate plan--modeled after AB-32.
Tamminen sees California as an energy and environment pilot program, a state where landmark laws are tried and tested before being replicated in other states around the country--and eventually made national.
“When we passed AB-32, eight states copied us. When we passed our [renewable-electricity standard], 33 states followed. When I advised Obama during his first campaign, we thought, why not make these standards national?" Tamminen told NJ.
When California enacted a tough clean-air rule reining in global-warming pollution from vehicle tailpipes, the auto industry and its allies in Congress fought hard to have it overturned.
Instead, 14 other states passed tailpipe-emissions rules modeled on the California standard.
“That gave Obama the momentum and the political cover to say, 'There are enough states doing this--let’s federalize it,' ” Tamminen said.
And in May 2009, Obama followed California’s lead, using the executive authority of the Environmental Protection Agency to make the tough California tailpipe regulations apply nationwide.
Schwarzenegger stood with Obama in the White House Rose Garden when the announcement was made.
Tamminen thinks the same thing can happen with cap-and-trade policy, as California’s carbon market links up to other state and regional markets around the country and the world. “When you aggregate all that, it becomes a tidal wave,” he said.
Schwarzenegger is expanding his climate advocacy beyond the policy push. He is collaborating with James Cameron, who directed him in The Terminator, on the production of a new Showtime series that will begin airing in 2013 about the effects of climate change.
Asked if he believes his role on spurring global warming action will ultimately stand as his legacy, Schwarzenegger invoked his career as a bodybuilding trailblazer.
“It’s one of those things, when I got into bodybuilding, the last thing I ever thought of is that I would be out there leading the fitness movement, going around the world and talking about fitness and exercising,” he said.
“I was just interested in winning as many bodybuilding championships as possible--Mr. World, Mr. Universe. But it just happened to be that there was a vacuum, and people looked at me as the guy who should carry the ball, and all of a sudden, there I was--it became my legacy. When I stepped into the governorship, this is the last thing I thought I would do--that I would be successful in this area. But the opportunity came up. You don’t know ahead of time.”