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Schwarzenegger Remakes Himself as Environmentalist
While other states are also far out ahead of the federal government on global warming, California is the place to lead the country on green issues, he contended. This state "is really in a unique position because we have such an impact on the world," he said.
"You go back to bodybuilding," he added, musing about his roots. "We promoted bodybuilding here, but it went all over the world, and now in every town, no matter where you go in the Middle East or Africa or China, everybody is working out, lifting weights, in the garage, at home or in the bedroom, pulling out equipment from under the bed."
California's two senators, Democrats Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, have told officials in Sacramento that they intend to model federal legislation on California's greenhouse gas legislation. Schwarzenegger said he is ready to go to Washington to testify on the issue.
Schwarzenegger also contended that bold American action on global warming -- a makeover that parallels his own -- could do much to improve the nation's international image.
"The war has dragged us down. There's no reason to get political, that's just the way it is," he said. "But you can balance it by being a great leader in the environment."
"The more America shows leadership in that area," he said, "the more we will be loved for that as much as they love us for our hamburgers and for our jeans and for our movies and for our music."
Environmental groups, rarely inclined to support a Republican, have grudgingly given Schwarzenegger decent marks. "Schwarzenegger has really taken the lead on greenhouse gases, more so than almost any American politician," said Frank O'Donnell, president of D.C.-based Clean Air Watch. "His state is the leading edge of many of our problems, but it's also the leading edge of many of their solutions."
In California, Schwarzenegger's pro-environmental position is part of a bipartisan tradition; even Ronald Reagan was known as pro-environment during his years in the statehouse. Since the 1960s, the state, bedeviled by the worst air quality in the United States, has led the nation in tackling pollutants. In 1961, it required the first automotive emissions control technology in the nation, and its regulations continue to be the toughest in the country.
California's standards have helped give birth in the United States to hybrid cars, efficient refrigerators and air conditioners, and the catalytic converter, which, because of California's leadership, will soon be installed on lawn mowers and other equipment using two-stroke engines.
The federal Air Quality Act of 1967 granted California a waiver to set and enforce its own emissions standards for new vehicles. Based on that waiver, California asked the federal government to allow it to begin limiting greenhouse gases from cars. California's status on this front gives it further claim to an environmental leadership role, Schwarzenegger said.
To be sure, there were -- and still are -- huge fights over emissions and, more broadly, coastal preservation. California is home to Richard W. Pombo (R), a congressman who almost succeeded in weakening the Endangered Species Act before he was defeated in November.
Nonetheless, the state's tough regulations have resulted in improvements. Schwarzenegger recalled that, when he first moved to California, his workouts on Muscle Beach in Venice left him with teary eyes.
"They were just burning all the time, and now I've never felt that again. It's just gone. That is unbelievable progress," he said. "It's all because of the Clean Air Act and the catalytic converter. All those kind of things that were done in the '70s which everyone fought about and said that business would go down and everyone was going to move from California and the world was going to be flat again and all this drama. And look what happened? The whole world is doing it."
Because California has embraced conservation like no other big state, its per capita consumption of energy has remained flat over 30 years, while the rest of the country's has increased by 50 percent. And total vehicle emissions of nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons have fallen more than 20 percent in 15 years, even though miles driven by state motorists are up by more than 20 percent.
Noting that Silicon Valley investors are devoting billions of dollars to green technology, Schwarzenegger predicted that a new era is dawning for business. He enthused about a recent trip to the Los Angeles Auto Show, where he test-drove an electric race car that went from 0 to 60 mph in 4.1 seconds. "A battery? I mean that's extraordinary. That's faster than a turbo Porsche," he said.
"All of this is going to be a whole new phenomenon," he said, "where people who are smart and entrepreneurial will not fight it but will get into it."