When it comes to California's landmark global warming law, gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman is now at odds with the environmentally conscious company she helped run for nearly a decade.
EBay has been a prominent business supporter of the carbon-reduction law signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as well as international efforts to curb greenhouse gases. The online auction house says California should "seize this precious opportunity" to enact the 2006 state law, while Whitman, the company's former CEO, wants the "dangerous job-killer" regulations suspended for a year.
Meg Whitman speaks at the 2007
eBay Live Conference
Whitman frequently cites eBay in her campaign advertising and speeches, even using the company's logo and interviews with former eBay employees in her TV ads. But in her Republican primary campaign, she doesn't highlight the environmental activism of the company where she worked from March 1998 through March 2008.
When Whitman was CEO of eBay, the company was among 150 global businesses that signed the Bali Communiqué on Climate Change, which called for a comprehensive United Nations plan to reduce carbon emissions. Unlike Whitman's current campaign literature, the Bali plan viewed global warming regulations as an economic benefit, not a drain.
"In summary, we believe that tackling climate change is the pro-growth strategy. Ignoring it will ultimately undermine economic growth," the businesses wrote on November 30, 2007, four months before Whitman stepped down as CEO. The communique was signed by Tod Cohen, vice president and general counsel for government relations at eBay.
Under Whitman's tenure at eBay, the company also joined a group called Sustainable Silicon Valley, a voluntary coalition of the area's major companies, including Cisco, Intel and Sun Microsystems. The group is devoted to reducing their carbon footprint to combat global warming. In 2007, the group reported they had reduced their cumulative carbon dioxide emissions by 517,000 tons over the previous five years.
If elected governor, Whitman has said she would delay implementation of California's carbon regulations for a year, enacting a provision designed for economic emergencies. This would “allow for careful examination of the true costs and benefits of each proposed rule," her campaign said. They have called the law a "dangerous job-killer" and cited a highly disputed economic study claiming the law would cost businesses $100 billion and destroy one million jobs.
“Meg believes that AB 32 may have good intentions, but given our current economic climate we must carefully review the specific rules as they are written and scheduled to go into effect," said campaign spokeswoman Sarah Pompei. "As noted in AB 32, the governor and Legislature recognized the need for adjusting deadlines for enforcing individual regulations when there is ‘a threat of significant economic harm.'"
But dozens of California companies, including eBay, have written to Schwarzenegger and the California Air Resources Board supporting the agency's roadmap for implementing the law on schedule. The letter that eBay signed in December 2008 makes the opposite argument from the one found in Whitman's campaign material – that implementing the law will create jobs, not destroy them:
With global financial markets in turmoil and global warming emissions rising faster than the worst-case projections of leading scientists, we are at a historic crossroads. Those who say we cannot afford to enact California’s proposed policies to reduce greenhouse gas pollution do not understand this critical moment or the economic opportunities presented by moving from a twentieth century fossil fuel-based economy to the twenty-first century economy that runs on clean, renewable energy.
The letter notes that improving California's energy efficiency just one percent a year will expand economic output by $76 billion, boost real household income by as much as $48 billion and create as many as 403,000 new jobs, according to a 2008 University of California report. The business executives and companies finished the letter by saying:
We represent some of the best and most innovative leaders in technology and business. We keep California competitive in the world market by challenging the traditional players and practices, and by recognizing and seizing opportunities for change. The state’s proposed plan fuels the entrepreneurial spirit that makes California a world economic leader. We must seize this precious opportunity to transform our energy infrastructure and retain the first mover advantage that AB32 creates for us in the multibillion-dollar clean-technology world market.
Not so, according to Whitman's campaign. They believe the increase in California's unemployment rate – now at 12.4 percent, one of the highest in the nation – necessitates an examination of the economic impacts of this law. “The right thing to do is to take the time to figure out the smartest strategy for meeting our environmental objectives without costing jobs," Pompei told California Watch.
For its part, eBay notes 2,300 of its employees are part of its Green Team, which promotes, “green business practices within eBay, volunteering in our communities, and supporting environmental legislation.” Some of these activities began in 2007, when it helped to convince the U.S. Postal Service to use more environmentally friendly packaging.
Since then, the San Jose-based company has installed solar panels, built an energy efficient headquarters, and promoted green buildings and “lends our voice ... to relevant public policy discussions, such as the Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy (BICEP), a coalition of consumer-facing brands in the U.S. advocating for aggressive climate legislation."