Schwarzenegger's Changes to the Board

Since leaving Hollywood, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has made a name for himself as a trailblazing environmental policy-maker: in 2006, he signed into law the nation’s first limit on greenhouse gas emissions, pledging a statewide cut of 25 percent by 2020. These days, the globe-trotting former Mr. Universe is more germinator than Terminator.


But last week the Green Governor’s halo slipped a little: Schwarzenegger fired Robert Sawyer, the popular and widely-respected chair of California’s Air Resources Board. In laying off his smogfighter-in-chief, Schwarzenegger said he had been “deeply disappointed” by Sawyer’s failure to adequately enforce clean-air regulations. But California greens suspect there’s more to it, claiming Sawyer was punished for attempting to bring forward the timetable for the state’s global warming legislation. Amid the fallout, the ARB’s embattled executive director, Catherine Witherspoon, also quit, saying that members of the Governor’s inner circle, including his chief of staff, had led a backroom battle against clean-air regulation. "The day-to-day orders that we receive from the governor's office are to do less; to delay; to not burden industry," she said.

Local Democrats are calling for an investigation, but the tiff has already raised awkward questions about Schwarzenegger’s ties to big business. His campaign has received millions of dollars in donations from the oil and construction industries; in return, the governor has backed a business-friendly cap-and-trade approach to reducing emissions, rather than the top-down regulations favored by Democrats. He has also repeatedly vetoed efforts to tax polluters, strengthen anti-pollution measures, and promote alternative fuel sources. To make matters worse, members of his team now stand accused of mounting a concerted effort to delay a raft of clean-air regulations - most notably a crackdown on aging diesel equipment, believed to cause tens of thousands of asthma cases and 1,100 deaths annually. Greens now fear that Team Schwarzenegger may seek to stuff the ARB with pro-business voices, potentially hamstringing the state’s global warming effort.

A loss of momentum in California could have serious consequences: across the country, lawmakers are looking to the Golden State’s example as they plan their own reforms. Schwarzenegger has done as much as anybody to keep environmentalism on the political agenda; but to cement his reputation as a green giant, he needs to go beyond bold political statements, take control of this situation - and show where his loyalties really lie.