In less than three weeks California will vote on Proposition 23 — a measure that could transform state environmental policy by suspending Assembly Bill 32 until California’s unemployment rate drops below 5.5 percent and remains that way for a full year.

Passed by the state legislature in 2006, AB 32 is a state law that requires California’s greenhouse gas emission levels to return to what they were in 1990 by the year 2020. AB 32 established a GHG emissions reduction program under the supervision of the California Environmental Protection Agency, to promote renewable energy while also requiring major polluters to report and reduce their GHG emissions. AB 32 was ratified with the intention to bring California into near compliance with several provisions in the Kyoto Protocol, the landmark environmental treaty which the United States has yet to ratify.

Proponents of Proposition 23 say AB 32 has put a strain on an already flailing California economy by killing over a million California jobs and dramatically increasing the cost of energy paid by consumers. By suspending the implementation of AB 32 until California’s economy improves, proponents argue California’s economy will be allowed to flourish while simultaneously preserving the state’s strict environmental policies.

Republican 35th District State Assembly candidate Mike Stoker said he vehemently supports the proposition because it will reverse unemployment spikes caused by AB 32.

“I am all for getting off of carbon reliance but we’ve lost 500,000 jobs due to AB 32’s implementation so far,” Stoker said. “And we’re going to lose 4 million more jobs — directly attributable to AB 32 — by 2018.”

On the other hand, the No on 23 Campaign — which refers to 23 as the “dirty energy” proposition, has some well-known supporters across the state, including Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and gubernatorial candidates Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown.

Prop 23 also has an outspoken opponent on UCSB’s faculty roster.

Department of Economics Chair Dr. Charles D. Kolstad was one of five prominent citizens who provided rebuttal information against Yes on 23’s argument in the California voter guide. In an interview, he spoke about the environmental setback and the economic impact Prop 23 would have on California.

“Many think the economy would benefit from [Prop 23] because of less regulation, but I don’t think that will occur,” Kolstad said. “In reality, it will be harmful in the long run because it will hurt clean energy jobs, a key sector for California’s future.”

Still, supporters of 23 have dubbed it the “California Jobs Initiative of 2010” to laud the bill’s possibilities. Proponents include numerous energy companies and even California’s Republican Party. In fact, the Yes on 23 Campaign has been criticized for the significant support it has received from the energy sector, specifically oil companies Valero and Tesoro, both of which have donated millions of dollars to the campaign.

While consensus on Proposition 23 is yet to be determined by the Nov. 2 election, political players from the left and the right have indicated the need for AB 32 to change.

For example, Whitman has publicly critiqued AB 32 despite having formally announced her opposition to Prop 23.

“I’ve said for more than a year, AB 32 as it stands today is a job killer,” Whitman said in a Sept. 23 press release. “We must fix it. My plan is to suspend AB 32 for at least one year while we develop the sensible improvements the law badly needs to protect the jobs of hard-working Californians while improving our environment.”

Steven Maviglio of the No on 23 Campaign said the proposition marks a crossroads for California’s environmental policy.

“It’s all about California’s energy future,” Maviglio said. “Do we want to keep being dependent on dirty fossil fuels or do we want to keep our momentum going toward clean energy?”