Schwarzenegger's Green Challenge

California Governor Says He'll Stick To Environmental Plans, Despite Economic Crisis

CBS All Access
This video is available on CBS All Access

President-elect Obama is 30 days from office. For a window on his future, turn west for a moment to a chief executive who is already up to his neck in the nation's troubles.

This month, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger warned of financial Armageddon, as California faced a potential $40 billion deficit that threatened jobs, roads, schools and public safety. At the same time, he's pushing some of the world's toughest environmental laws to make California a leader on climate change.

The governor agreed to take 60 Minutes along during his most challenging times. How does he deal with it all? Well, what would you expect a former action hero to say?

"The more difficult it gets, the more joy I find in it. Because it's just great to figure out all of the ways of bringing people together and shaping policy. But to get it done, to get there is always a long process. But when you get it done, it's very satisfying," Gov. Schwarzenegger told correspondent Scott Pelley.

Maybe it was acting. When 60 Minutes met Schwarzenegger at the state Capitol in Sacramento, he had just declared a state of emergency. His budget plan touched off a political firestorm which, of course, in California, would be accompanied by a real one.

Schwarzenegger and Pelley visited one Los Angeles neighborhood burned to ash just weeks before - evidence to Schwarzenegger that even in these times, the greatest threat is climate change. "It all happened so fast they couldn't save one single one of those homes. Over 500 homes here were destroyed within hours," Schwarzenegger explained as they walked through charred remains.

"You know, there's been a lot of research that suggests that there are more fires and there are hotter fires because the fire season has been extended by climate change," Pelley remarked.

"Well, we have been doing some research in that, and we have seen the changes. We don't have a fire season anymore. It starts in the beginning of the year and goes all year around and so it has created, of course, big challenges," the governor said.

Asked what he tells someone who says climate change is theoretical and questions the harm, Schwarzenegger told Pelley, "I always say, well there were people that were debating over if the world is a globe. They thought for a long time it was flat. And there's still people that think that they're flat. And there are people that still live in the Stone Age."

Schwarzenegger wants to revolutionize energy with aggressive limits on greenhouse gases. In a little more than ten years, a third of California power is supposed to flow from renewables, like solar energy. And he wants to cut tailpipe emissions 30 percent in eight years.

Asked if it's the wrong time to switch the way America uses energy - in light of the economic emergency, Schwarzenegger said, "I think that there's never the wrong time. There's always the right time. I will argue the opposite. Because we have seen that the industries that are performing well in California, even right now in this economic decline, is green technology. It's really spectacular to see those manufacturers coming up to me and saying, 'Our business is booming,' while there's an economic decline. So, green technology's where it's at."

He'd like to turn greener faster, but he's been fighting the Bush White House and, ironically, environmentalists.

"You can't build a solar power plant in the Mojave Desert in California because there's concern about an endangered squirrel?" Pelley asked, referring to the attempts to meet the renewable power standards.

"Well first of all, let me just say the Mojave Desert is the best place to have a solar field because it is the most sun they have sun all year round, it's the best place but, there's some that want to hold it up because they think that it will endanger some animal life there that is going overboard," Schwarzenegger said. "Because the environmentalists are the first ones to say, 'Yes, we need renewable energy. We should get rid of, you know, using our energy from coal and from natural gas,' and all those kind of things. But then when you say, 'Okay, let's do renewable, let's go that,' 'Whoa, whoa, whoa. Hold up, not so fast.'"

And when he tried to impose the cuts in tailpipe emissions, President Bush's EPA administrator Stephen Johnson said no. "I could tell in his eyes that he did not believe in it, that we would never get it, that he will create every obstacle. And the administration just had no interest in it," Schwarzenegger recalled.

So Schwarzenegger sued the administration. "What we wanted to do is just say 'Look, America, the United States, is not doing the right thing and is not moving this agenda forward, and is really trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or have an energy policy or an environmental policy. So, therefore we as a state are forced to create our own,'" he told Pelley.

He went as far as to create his own foreign policy. Last month, Schwarzenegger held a world summit on climate change in Beverly Hills.

He did what Washington would not do, signing an emissions declaration with government officials from the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Indonesia, India and China. Then he took the delegates to the L.A. Auto Show, where they were no doubt impressed with the horsepower of his celebrity.