Palin asks California to scrap pollution law

Not content with cheerleading for Big Oil, lobbying against polar bears and denying global warming, GOP vice-presidential hopeful Sarah Palin is now trying to persuade Californians to scrap a new law that would limit the state’s exposure to shipping pollution.

Vast amounts of cargo enter the US through Los Angeles, Long Beach and Oakland - and the resultant emissions from trains, trucks and freighters lead to around 3,700 deaths each year. Unsurprisingly, Californians are keen to clean things up: state lawmakers have passed new legislation slapping a $30 charge on each shipping container that passes through the ports, and steering the money raised into new clean-air initiatives.

Now, though, Palin has asked Californian Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to veto the bill on the grounds that a shipping surcharge might raise prices for Alaskan consumers. "Many communities [here] lack road access and depend entirely on the shipment of goods by marine containers," Palin wrote in a letter dated Aug. 28, the day before she was tapped as John McCain’s running mate. "Shipping costs have increased significantly with the rising price of fuel and these higher costs passed onto Alaskans. This tax makes the situation worse."

That’s preposterous: with the average shipping container holding $50,000 worth of goods, a $30 surcharge would have a negligible effect on the price paid by consumers. (Analysts estimate that the charge would increase the price of a pair of imported sneakers by just 10 cents.) It’s also deeply hypocritical: as Alaskan governor, Palin has been perfectly happy to tax the state’s oil and gas exports until the pips squeak, passing along price-hikes to consumers in the lower 48 in order to dole out free money to Alaskan residents.

Depressingly, though, California’s political leaders appear to be drinking Palin’s Kool-Aid. Gov. Schwarzenegger, currently wrestling with a budget crisis, is unhappy that the new law would fund local rather than statewide initiatives, so it’s possible he’ll veto or delay signing the legislation. Even the bill’s Democratic sponsor, Alan Lowenthal of Long Beach, has said that he’ll consider amending the legislation so that containers bound for Alaska are charged half as much as those headed for the rest of the country.

Most worryingly of all, Palin’s shilling for the shipping industry is a sign of how she’d seek to run the country. When push comes to shove, she apparently prefers to watch thousands die than permit legislation that might impact, however slightly, on companies’ profit margins. We’ve seen how well that philosophy has worked for Bush; does anyone really want four more years of the same?