Texas Oil Loses a Round

10/19/2010 08:32 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Californians have begun to vote. There are dozen of important races -- but California's the only state where global-warming policy is actually on the ballot. Two big Texas oil refiners (Valero and Tesoro) linked up with right-wing political forces and the Koch family interests to spend millions putting Prop 23 on the ballot. Prop 23 would, effectively, repeal California's pioneering climate change legislation, AB 32, under the guise of delaying it until the economy recovers. But as the first voters send in their ballots, I'm going to call this -- Prop 23 is going down.

The latest field poll shows that in only a few weeks the polling numbers have moved from a dead heat to an 11-point deficit for Prop 23, which is now getting only 34 percent of the vote. At this stage, ballot measures that don't have a majority almost always lose. Significantly, this was also the week when Valero, Beacon, and Koch needed to make massive television buys if they were going to to turn the tide. They didn't. Instead they went dark -- no television buys at all.  Assemblyman Dan Logue, one of the major political backers of Prop 23, conceded, "The private sector is spread thin. Resources have diminished more than we thought."

Logue's phrase "the private sector" of course, means only "the out-of-state oil industry." Because most of California's private sector, in contrast to the Texans, opposes Prop 23 as the kiss of death for California's clean jobs future. Just yesterday 70 major investment firms declared their opposition to Prop 23, with Deutsche Bank's Kevin Parker saying that Prop 23 would "undermine investors' willingness to invest in the state's renewable energy future." The failure of federal climate legislation makes it "more critical than ever that the states continue to build their own frameworks ... I fear that if Prop. 23 succeeds it will be a signal to other states and the U.S. government" to reverse course on climate change policy.

But even if Prop 23 is headed for defeat, the oil industry still has other irons in the fire. Their backup effort was always Prop 26, which would make it virtually impossible to fund California's clean-energy program simply by making taxpayers, not polluters, underwrite the costs of enforcement and other needed oversight programs. In a state facing an almost impossible fiscal deficit, something like Prop 26 makes even less sense than Prop 23 -- but it's a more complex issue, and it hasn't benefited from the scale of public education that is turning the tide on Prop 23.

So here in California, as everywhere, it's all still too close to call. What matters now is whether we and our friends vote. Vote early, if you can (to "vote often" is illegal, but you can get the same result by encouraging some friends to go to the polls with you).

This time around, it's all about who shows up on Nov 2.