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California's Whitman, Poizner shift right on environment

Steve Poizner in 2004 vowed to pursue a ban on offshore oil drilling and wanted to reduce greenhouse gases. He boasted about signing up to buy a hybrid car.

Meg Whitman in 2008 joined an elite group of leaders on a global warming tour of Norwegian Arctic waters. She launched an initiative to reduce electronic waste as head of eBay and donated $300,000 to the Environmental Defense Fund.

Both Republican gubernatorial candidates have supported environmental causes before. But in their appeal to conservative voters this year, they have made environmental concerns subordinate to the state's struggling economy.

Poizner, now state insurance commissioner, has moved farthest from his environmental past in an all-out effort to win conservative votes. Whitman has issued more nuanced views — leaving herself room to win general election votes in environmentally minded California.

The winner of the GOP primary must face Democrat Jerry Brown, the attorney general and former governor whom environmentalists say has a solid record on their issues.

As a 2004 Assembly candidate in a Democratic-leaning Bay Area district, Poizner not only advocated a permanent ban on offshore oil drilling in California but said the federal government should buy back existing oil leases to preserve the ecosystem.

He now supports more oil drilling from existing offshore platforms.

"With each passing year, California and the United States as a whole become increasingly dependent on foreign oil," said Poizner spokeswoman Bettina Inclán in a statement Friday. "The last several years have also seen additional advances in technology and safety, which make offshore oil drilling a viable component of a comprehensive plan to solve our nation's energy crisis."

Environmentalists criticized Poizner's position, especially in light of a major oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

"He should consider the long-term impacts of oil drilling on the animals in our ocean and the reduced dollars from tourism and other economies on our coast," said Bernadette Del Chiaro of Environment California.

In 2004, Poizner called for a reduction in greenhouse gases and backed a law allowing California to regulate carbon emissions in vehicles.

He now supports a proposed November initiative to halt greenhouse gas limits in Assembly Bill 32 until the state's unemployment rate dips to 5.5 percent for four consecutive quarters. He says AB 32 has made the state less competitive.

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