Schwarzenegger Remakes Himself as Environmentalist
Saturday, December 23, 2006
SACRAMENTO -- Arnold Schwarzenegger is not the type of guy you would necessarily associate with tree hugging. When he bought a Hummer in the early 1990s, it kicked off a nationwide craze for the gas-guzzling behemoths. His lighter-fluid-dowsed action flicks and protein-packed chest bespoke more of American excess than environmentalism, more violence than vegan.
But as governor of California, Schwarzenegger has engaged in a savvy makeover, befitting a Hollywood star. He retooled one of his four Hummers to run on alternative fuels and is quickly fashioning himself into one of the most aggressively pro-environment governors in a state known for leading the nation on that issue.
This year he signed the nation's first environmental law of its kind, committing the state to lowering its greenhouse gas production to 1990 levels by 2020 and setting up an international program that provides manufacturers with incentives to lower carbon emissions, which is supposed to begin by 2012. He has vowed to fight any attempt to drill for oil off California's coast.
And now Schwarzenegger, a Republican, wants to use his star power to turn global warming into an issue in the 2008 presidential election. "There is a whole new movement because of the change of people sent to Washington," Schwarzenegger said in an interview this week, referring to the Democratic Party's impending takeover of Congress. "We want to put the spotlight on this issue in America. It has to become a debate in the presidential election. It has to become an issue."
Schwarzenegger's relationship with the Bush administration and the conservative wing of the Republican Party has been rocky. He has clashed with Bush over stem cell research (Schwarzenegger favors, Bush opposes), dispatching the National Guard to do border enforcement (Bush ordered, Schwarzenegger opposed) and legalizing the purchase of prescription drugs from Canada (Bush opposes, Schwarzenegger favors).
But no other issue divides the governor and the president as much as global warming. Schwarzenegger's embrace of the issue is clearly a gambit on the part of a politician with big ambitions. Analysts say he could run for the Senate in 2010. He cannot run for president because he was not born in the United States.
Schwarzenegger made no bones about his exasperation with the Bush administration's refusal to allow California to become the first state in the nation to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles. A request in 2005 for that authority has received no response from the Environmental Protection Agency. The question of whether the EPA -- or other agencies -- should regulate greenhouse gases is being considered by the Supreme Court.
"We are going to find a way to do it, no matter what anyone says," Schwarzenegger said. ". . . We have to make moves that protect the health of the people. That's our number one priority.
"We don't want Washington to tell us when we are allowed to be healthy or when we should get cancer," he continued. "We don't want people to die because pollution causes certain illnesses and cancers and so on."
Schwarzenegger argued that in a "Nixon goes to China" way he is uniquely poised to lead on the environmental front. Calling himself a "sane Republican," he said his pro-business philosophy and fiscal conservatism shield him from accusations of being "the tree hugger, the crazy guy out there who wants to live on the moon and talk about the spirits and all this holistic stuff."
"With me they can't do it, because my whole history is different," he said, puffing thoughtfully on a fat cigar in his smoking tent in a courtyard of the state Capitol. "It's unexpected, so therefore you have a better chance to have an impact. . . . All those businesses would never have a better guy than me."
Schwarzenegger asserted that his embrace of the issue has helped prompt other Republicans to change their tune on the environment. Republican presidential hopefuls have reached out to Schwarzenegger's team to talk about global warming, an aide noted.