Arnold terminates green laws

Arnold Schwarzenegger has had a busy week. With the deadline for the 2008 legislative session looming, California’s “green governor” has been ploughing through a backlog of legislation submitted for his approval by the state legislature; on Tuesday alone, Schwarzenegger signed or shot down a whopping 300 bills. (There’s no word yet on how many pens he went through along the way.)

The flurry of activity brought mixed results for California’s greens. On the one hand, the Gubernator gave the green light to a landmark plan to prioritize funding for transport projects that reduce urban sprawl and limit commute times. It’s a long-term plan, but one that could have a big impact as California’s cities grow - and, if it takes off, could provide a model for sustainable growth across the US.

On the other hand, Arnold allowed a disappointing number of other environmental measures to fall by the wayside. In signing California’s long-overdue budget, the governor Tippexed out $3.1 million in funding for the state’s Department of Fish and Game to protect salmon, steelhead and a range of other endangered and threatened species. Gov. Schwarzenegger also nixed a law that would have banned toxic chemicals from food packaging, instead opting for an industry-backed package of “green chemistry” laws that critics say is too bureaucratic and leaves too many loopholes open for corporate polluters.

Worst of all, Schwarzenegger scrapped proposals that would have imposed a “pollution tax” on all cargo entering California’s deep-water ports. It’s unclear what role Sarah Palin’s personal call for the measure to be dropped played in Schwarzenegger’s decision to veto the bill; either way, dropping the plan cuts off a significant source of new funding for clean air activities, and will do nothing to curb the 3,700 deaths a year currently attributed to emissions from freight transportation.

Greens can take some consolation from the fact that Arnold wasn’t specifically singling out environmental legislation for the red-pen treatment. Rather, these measures were collateral damage in the Governor’s ongoing feud with the California’s lawmakers; over the course of the 2008 session, Schwarzenegger vetoed a whopping 35 percent of the 1,200 bills that crossed his desk. Still, let’s hope Arnold and the Cali legislature resolve their differences post-haste; the longer this kind of legislative-executive deadlock is allowed to continue, the harder it’ll be for the Golden State to maintain its reputation as America’s green pioneer.