Cali Gov. Meg Whitman?: Silicon Valley 1, Clean Energy 0

Former eBay chief Meg Whitman stepped down from her seats on three corporate boards yesterday, clearing the way for a possible run in the 2010 race for California governor, the Wall Street Journal reports. For any candidate, it would be tough to match governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s decidedly bullish stance on clean energy. But whoever takes up the guvernatorship (Schwarzenegger’s second term ends in January 2011) will inherit one of the most influential pulpits for establishing state-level energy policy — for better or worse.

California has long led national trends toward tighter pollution controls, beginning in the 1970s, when it was allowed to establish its own tailpipe emissions standards under the Clean Air Act (other states can adopt the California or federal standard). More recently, California officials have created a comprehensive plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions — the nation’s first.

Schwarzenegger, for his part, has pushed for companies like Tesla Motors to set up manufacturing in California — part of an ongoing effort to lock in the state’s role as a hub of a global green economy. In November, he signed an executive order calling for an increase in the state‚Äôs Renewable Energy Standard to 33 percent renewable power by 2020; up from 20 percent in 2010.

When he entered office, Schwarzenegger, like Whitman, had a thin political track record. But what Whitman has said about energy policy suggests a less aggressive approach to energy efficiency and renewables. Stumping for Senator John McCain during the presidential campaign, she supported the Republican candidate’s “all-of-the-above strategy” — including offshore oil drilling and nuclear — for reducing U.S. reliance on energy imports. Even so, having Whitman in Sacramento would not be all bad for Silicon Valley’s solar, electric vehicle, energy storage, and biofuel startups. With more and more of her colleagues from the dotcom days ditching infotech for cleantech, Whitman could end up bringing energy innovators onto her team.

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