Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, flexing his muscles in an effort to counter President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, will unveil an ambitious new national effort Friday aimed at providing lawmakers with a comprehensive set of tools to pass substantive climate change legislation at the state and local level.
The new initiative to tweak Trump on climate change is being touted as a first — a “digital environmental legislative handbook” which organizers say will provide political leaders around the nation with a comprehensive curated list of legal and legislative research, voting records, and bill language and data to help them prepare bills on a wide range of environmental action, including air quality, renewable energy, health and climate change.
The effort developed by the USC Schwarzenegger Institute and the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators will be unveiled Friday by the former California governor before more than 130 legislators at the NCEL’s Boston conference.
"There’s no reason why we shouldn’t have a digital legislative handbook — and make it available to people who wanted to create environmental action now — because of the situation with Trump,” Schwarzenegger told POLITICO in an interview Thursday. "With his decision on the Paris agreement, it is even more so important to make this information available because it shows the kinds of wonderful things states can do without waiting for the federal government."
"The message to legislators with the project is now ‘you have the power to do it yourselves,”’ he said. "The reality is each state now goes to work and passes great legislation that helps them…make great decisions."
Bonnie Reiss, global director of the Schwarzenegger Institute, and a longtime senior adviser to the former governor who helped developed the new digital website, told POLITICO that “even as governor, when he passed our landmark AB32, Arnold has always been a big believer in the power of local and sub-national action on climate change.”
“And now, with Trump both denying climate change and, frankly, reversing so much action on environmental protection across the board, Arnold is really doubling down on the need for action,” she said.
The unveiling of Schwarzenegger’s new effort comes just days after both he and California Gov. Jerry Brown appeared to seize the mantle as de facto national leaders on climate change — standing side by side at a triumphant ceremony to sign California’s latest cap-and-trade bill. The Republican and the Democrat said the moment illustrated how California offers the nation an example of bipartisan cooperation on climate that benefits all Americans.
But in the first six months since Trump’s inauguration, the former California governor and Hollywood star has been especially driven to spur international action on climate change to counter both a White House and an Environmental Protection Agency intent on rolling back some of the same environmental regulations and protections for which both he and Brown fought.
Schwarzenegger in Paris recently issued a direct challenge to Trump’s position on climate change when he stood alongside French President Emmanuel Macron and vowed to "make our planet great again" on climate change issues. In a video message that has received nearly 2 million views, Schwarzenegger vowed: “One man cannot destroy our progress. One man can’t stop our clean energy revolution. And one man can’t go back in time."
Now, making good on a promise that states will move forward with environmental legislation — with or without the help of Trump — Schwarzenegger says the new resource site debuting today provides legislators with a range of categories in the area of environmental protection. The site provides comprehensive listings of examples of bills that have passed around the country, compete with data like fiscal impact and past votes, as well as full legal language. Lawmakers can also research new legislation including air quality, renewable energy, human health and climate change.
“It’s interactive and it’s about states helping states,’’ said Reiss. “We’ve given legislators an opportunity to submit legislation in their states that may be duplicable in other states, and the research is done for them already.”
The one-stop-shop is important “especially with Trump — what’s happening in the Congress and the EPA and our parks,’’ said Reiss. “Our focus is making sure we really reach out and create a meaningful resource that is huge for U.S. legislators,’’ with the hope to eventually expand the effort internationally, she said.
Fran Pavley, the environmental icon and former California legislator who authored the landmark AB32 — the nation’s first bill to take a long-term and comprehensive approach to the goals of cutting greenhouse gas emissions — said that the former governor, as a Hollywood star known to millions worldwide, is in a unique position to bring international spotlight to the issue.
“I’m thrilled that he’s in this space,’’ she told POLITICO. “Arnold consistently commands attention on a global stage like few people can…so it’s critically important.”
She told POLITICO that Schwarzenegger’s determination to expand consciousness of a watershed moment in environmental protection has produced an entirely bipartisan new platform that will enable more legislation in the environmental arena.
“We’ve proven since the passage of AB32, eleven years ago when we started the multi-sector approach, that our economy has grown and we’ve reduced greenhouse gas emissions in California,’’ said Pavley, who closely advised Schwarzenegger and Reiss on how to maximize the site’s usefulness for legislators. “You don’t have to make a choice between a healthy economy and a healthy environment.”
In the wake of Trump’s Paris decision, Pavley said,“everyone realizes it’s really going to be up to the sub-nationals to do even more — cities, states and provinces working collaboratively together.’’ The move to provide legislators with tools they need “is a natural progression,’’ she said, “given that the federal government level is not moving forward and states need to share information.”
Schwarzenegger, who in 2010 founded the non-profit global environmental effort called the R-20 Regions of Climate Action to advance the climate change message, said his goal looking forward is for the new digital legislative handbook to expand its scope and to assist lawmakers worldwide.
"California is not the only state that has done great things….the key thing is to show leadership," Schwarzenegger said. "There’s a lot of great laws..there’s great information out there and brilliant minds. We want to share it with the rest of the world."