CALIF. -- The future of climate change legislation in the United States could rest in California, where voters will decide on Nov. 2 whether to pass Proposition 23, a ballot measure that would roll back the state's ambitious greenhouse gas emissions targets. With some polls showing voters in California split over the issue, former Vice President Al Gore released a video today explaining his opposition.
"The fight for America's clean energy future is taking place right now, and it's come to California," Gore says in the video. "This is a fight we simply cannot afford to lose."
In 2006, California passed a law to curb the state's emissions by 15 percent by 2020, which would bring them down to 1990 levels. The plan targeted a range of economic sectors for emissions cuts, including automobiles, buildings and landfills, and it called for a third of California's electricity to come from renewable sources like wind or solar energy. The plan was hailed as a model for national climate change legislation.
Now voters have the opportunity to delay the implementation of the law. Proposition 23 would halt the climate law's enactment (slated to go into effect in 2012) until unemployment in California -- which now stands at over 12 percent -- drops back down to 5.5 percent and stays at that level for a year.
The stakes are high in the fight over Prop. 23, and not just in California. Businesses and organizations from outside of the state are investing heavily on both sides of issue in an attempt to influence California's policy decisions -- and possibly Washington's. After national climate change legislation passed in the House last year but died in the Senate, the eyes of those invested in the matter are now fixed on the Golden State.
While Gore released his video today, backers of Prop. 23 put out their own message yesterday. In a new television ad campaign in Los Angeles, they told voters that the state will lose more jobs and electricity costs will go up if the measure does not pass.
While proponents of the measure say the state's emissions rules will lead to job losses, Gore and other opponents say that the new regulations will spur growth in the clean energy sector. They also contend the initiative's goal of reaching 5.5 percent unemployment for a full year is unrealistic and will effectively halt the new regulations indefinitely.
"Proposition 23 sends a message that clean energy companies aren't welcome in Califorina," Gore says in his new video. "If it were to pass, California would lose -- and our nation would lose -- the best opportunity to create hundreds of thousands of clean energy jobs."
The two top Democratic candidates on California's November ballot -- gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown and incumbent Sen. Barbara Boxer -- oppose Prop. 23. Conservative Republican Senate candidate Carly Fiorina supports the measure, while moderate Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman has said she opposes it, preferring to enact a one-year moratorium on the implementation of California's new regulations.
The primary support for Prop. 23 comes from the oil industry. Supporters of the initiative have raised over $9 million for their campaign, with the largest donation coming from Valero, the San Antonio-based oil refiner. The company donated $4 million, according to state data compiled by Maplight.org.
While the oil industry has invested heavily in the initiative, they have been outmatched financially by environmental groups, California-based venture capital firms, and others opposed to it. Opponents of Prop. 23 have raised more than $28 million as of Tuesday, with the largest donation of coming from Thomas Steyer, a hedge fund executive with Farallon Capital Management in San Francisco. Steyer, who co-chairs the No on 23 campaign, donated $5 million. The second-largest donor, the National Wildlife Foundation, contributed $3 million.
Both sides of the debate have attracted donations from recognizable names: Hollywood director James Cameron donated $1 million to defeat Prop. 23, while a company owned by the Koch brothers contributed $1 million to support it. The billionaire Koch brothers have been by Democrats for to promote conservative policies.
California voters may be leaning against the proposition. A Los Angeles Times/University of Southern California poll released in late September showed likely voters virtually split on the issue, with 40 percent in favor of it and 38 percent opposed. A California Field Poll released two days later showed opponents outnumbering supporters 45 percent to 34 percent.
Stephanie Condon is a political reporter for CBSNews.com. You can read more of her posts here. Follow Hotsheet on Facebook and Twitter.