Proposition 23 Puts California’s Recovery At Risk


Posted on 22 July 2010

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By James Birkelund

With so many sectors of the economy faltering, Californians have reason to celebrate the leadership our state is showing in promoting clean energy and the dramatic potential for job growth it presents. Since 2005, employment in the clean energy sector has grown ten times faster than the statewide average. And it is precisely these jobs at stake as out-of-state oil industry giants pour money into a self-serving, short-sighted campaign to protect their own economic interests.

The oil company-sponsored measure, Proposition 23, would in fact take a wrecking ball to one of the most promising segments of the state's economy and with it the hundreds of thousands of jobs it stands to generate.

California has invested billions of dollars in clean energy technology such as wind and solar, and is well positioned to lead the nation in the rapidly expanding renewable energy technology sector. Already, the state has received 60 percent of total venture capital clean tech investment, totaling more than $9 billion since 2005, funding likely to be diverted elsewhere if Prop 23 passes. Consumer electricity costs are also projected to jump 33 percent under this initiative.

In light of the devastating Gulf Oil spill, support for our continued reliance on fossil fuels is waning, even among traditional advocates. And the oil industry itself acknowledges both the rapidly dwindling reserves available and the unsustainable climate change impacts of their greenhouse gas emissions. It is clear the nation's energy future lies elsewhere.

Prop 23 supporters' contention that the initiative is necessary to protect California's economy is not just self-serving, it is perilously short-sighted. California already has 500,000 workers employed in green jobs, and more than 12,000 clean tech companies call the state home. It is estimated that Prop 23 will reduce the state's economic output by $80 billion and cut over half a million jobs by 2020.

In addition to the clear economic risks, Prop 23 would also suspend the air pollution control provisions of the Health and Safety Code, jeopardizing the wellbeing of all Californians. California has some of the country's worst air pollution and respiratory illnesses send thousands of children each year to the hospital. Gutting these statutes would unjustly imperil public health.

So who is bankrolling this proposition? The list includes some of the oil industry's largest companies, with the bulk of the funding coming from Valero and Tesoro, oil companies based in Texas whose California refineries are two of the state's top ten polluters. Out-of-state corporations are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to undo the years of work California has invested to position itself as the principle player in the nation's rapidly expanding renewable energy sector.

The diversity of the growing coalition of opponents shows clearly the dimensions of what is at risk. Environmental and public health groups from the American Lung Association to the Natural Resources Defense Council; state and federal officials; local governments; labor unions; and businesses from Google to PG&E stand united in opposition.   

A battle is brewing and the stakes could not be higher. As the economy recovers and jobs remain precious, alternative energy presents one of the most promising sectors of economic growth. If California is to capitalize on the opportunities clean tech presents we must not allow out-of-state oil interests to manipulate state policy and jeopardize the leadership role California has achieved. With the majority of California counties already suffering from poor air quality and the public health costs associated therewith, now is certainly not the time to weaken standards.

Common sense must prevail over the influence of out-of-state advertising dollars when voters cast ballots in November. If ever there was a time for California to stand up in support of the clean tech sector it is now.  

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James Birkelund is an attorney at Cleantech Law Partners specializing in climate change, clean energy, and natural resource matters. He counsels nonprofit, government, and private entities on a broad range of litigation, administrative, and transactional issues.