07/01/2010 01:16 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

What John Belushi & Darth Vader Can Teach Us About Big Oil & Dirty Coal in California

In Animal House, John Belushi famously demanded, "Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?!?"

Thanks for the lesson, Bluto. It's more relevant than you think to what's happening right now on climate & energy policy. Big Oil and dirty coal companies have opened a second front -- just like we faced in World War II -- in their fight to kill competition.

On the first front, Congress has been unable to pass a national clean energy policy for more than a year. It's unclear whether anything will ever get out of the U.S. Senate -- this year, next year, whenever. Big Oil and dirty coal companies are doing a really bang-up job of preventing any new laws from leaking out of Washington.

Now, in California in a statewide ballot initiative this November, these same folks want to plug the development of a cleaner, alternative energy economy that has been the only positive economic jobs and growth story in the state over the last two years. The ramifications are national.

Oil and coal only need to win on one front to stop things everywhere. We must win on both.

The oil and coal companies are calling their campaign the "California Jobs Initiative," arguing that they're not really opposed to these laws (known as AB32 for Assembly Bill 32). It's just that California should slow things down until the economy gets better. Of course, their definition of a "better economy" is an unemployment level that has only been seen in the state three times in the last forty years.

All this might seem reasonable to voters worried about their job or their electric bill, which makes the chance of passing this ballot initiative very real.

"No way! California is a big environmental leader," you say. "It's a blue state that has led the nation on fuel economy (MPG) standards and on building efficiency standards that save folks tons of money and on its commitment to use renewable energy to generate a mere 20% of its electricity."

"Yes way," says reliable research that shows a close November election because of the shaky economy and the deceptive Big Oil charade.

Here's the thing. Big Oil already tells us that they are full of "Human Energy" and are "Beyond Petroleum" in beautiful, compelling greenwashing campaigns. And the coal companies tell us that clean coal is just around the corner so there's no reason for all these silly clean air rules.

But their deception is planned, it is smart, and it will be funded by at least $50 million in oil and coal profits from good corporate citizens like Valero and Tesoro.

These folks know that if they can turn back California's climate and energy laws by showing momentum on -- even winning -- their ballot initiative, then Congress will be even more unlikely to move forward. And the other 49 states will stop dead in their dusty, oily tracks.

Underestimating Big Oil is a big mistake.

Like Darth Vader, they might be bad -- even evil -- but they ain't dumb.


** There is good news here. An unprecedented and cohesive coalition of clean tech entrepreneurs, California businesses, public health organizations, and environmental groups have come together to fight back under the banner "Californians for Clean Energy & Jobs." And they're being helped by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as well as the initiative's description on voters' ballots which should help blunt the massive spending campaign the other side is about to unleash:

Suspends Air Pollution Control Laws Requiring Major Polluters to Report and Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions That Cause Global Warming Until Unemployment Drops Below Specified Level for Full Year.
Suspends State laws requiring reduced greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming, until California's unemployment rate drops to 5.5 percent or less for four consecutive quarters. Requires State to abandon implementation of comprehensive greenhouse-gas-reduction program that includes increased renewable energy and cleaner fuel requirements, and mandatory emission reporting and fee requirements for major polluters such as power plants and oil refineries, until suspension is lifted.