California has long been a world leader in environmental policy. What the Golden State does in terms of emissions management often sets standards that other states -- and even other nations -- are eventually compelled to adopt.

California's most recent effort in this area is Assembly Bill 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. AB 32 aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

Opponents of AB 32, citing fears of higher energy costs, want to derail the landmark greenhouse gas law before it takes effect. Their answer, Prop. 23, is being funded almost exclusively by the oil-and-gas industry, and by three out-of-state companies in particular.

Their spiel: Saving the planet is a fine idea and all, but now is not the time to hog-tie businesses trying to create jobs, or to burden families struggling to make ends meet in the face of climbing energy bills. They say AB 32 will drive up consumer energy prices, and that air quality is actually improving anyway. And they say putting AB 32 on hold is reasonable in light of high unemployment and the state budget crisis.

What they don't say much about is that our air quality is improving precisely because of tightening environmental standards, that counties have seen and will continue to see property-tax windfalls as new alternative-energy projects come online, that entrepreneurs have already created hundreds of thousands of jobs in the fields of solar power, wind power and energy efficiency, and that those entrepreneurs require the certainty and stability that AB 32 guarantees in order to justify new investment.

California has an estimated 12,000 clean-energy businesses up and running now. Taking our efforts to the next level should yield even greater results.

If Prop. 23 passes, California can reactivate AB 32 only after unemployment falls to 5.5 percent or less in four straight quarters -- a benchmark reached just three times since 1976. With unemployment at around 13 percent now, it'll be some time before we see 5.5 again. An overriding flaw lurks behind that formula anyway: Prop. 23 wrongly assumes that clean air and economic health are mutually exclusive.

Almost every municipality in the state is taking steps to go cleaner, and AB 32 will only spur them on. Cities like Bakersfield, with alarming rates of asthma and heart disease, need to do all they can to promote meaningful change --not only to improve the quality of residents' everyday lives, but to corral long-term medical costs and boost productivity, which suffers when workers' good health deserts them.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger breaks with the California Republican Party in his ardent support of AB 32. Both major-party gubernatorial candidates, Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman, also support AB 32 -- and oppose Prop. 23.

The question shouldn't be whether AB 32 should be implemented. Rather, it's how quickly, and to what degree, it should be enacted to maximize results.

We recommend a no vote on Prop. 23.