California’s Climate Change Law Spurs Jobs and Innovation

In 2006, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into being one of the nation’s first and most ambitious state laws to reduce climate change. AB 32 mandates California reduce its statewide carbon emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020, and has been held up time and again as an example of bold state-level climate change legislation. The bill has helped spur the green economy and create hundreds of thousands of jobs in California.

Now out-of-state oil companies have launched a campaign to kill AB 32, which if successful could destroy thousands of jobs and discourage green innovation in a region that’s become a hotbed for clean energy industries. The leaders and entrepreneurs in California’s green tech sector must fight back to protect climate change legislation in the Golden State.

Today California’s unemployment rate is around 12%, one of the highest in the country. Yet like several other states suffering under the recession, California’s green energy sector is a bright spot on the economic map. Contrary to oil industry claims that reducing the effects of climate change will cost jobs, clean energy in California employs around 500,000 people. This is despite the fact that key parts of AB 32 won’t kick in until the year 2012; smaller initiatives to spur green investment, coupled with the incentive to de-carbonize provided by AB 32’s presence on the horizon, have already been enough to create hundreds of thousands of jobs and make California an attractive spot for the clean tech industry. As AB 32 really swings into gear, the law will spur green investments even further and create still more jobs. This could all be brought to a halt if out-of-state oil giants get their way.

An advocacy group with the misleading name of “California Jobs Initiative” is leading the campaign to deactivate AB 32, and has put a measure on the 2010 ballot that would delay the climate change law’s implementation indefinitely. While it claims to be concerned about employment, it turns out the majority of funding for the California Jobs Initiative is provided by Texas-based oil companies like Tesoro and Valero. The petroleum giants apparently see the success of California’s green economy as a threat to their own profits, and are anxious to discourage further California investments in clean tech.

The oil industry-funded ballot measure, California Proposition 23, would freeze implementation of the climate change law until the state’s unemployment rate shrinks to 5.5% for three consecutive quarters. The implied reasoning seems to be that reducing carbon emissions hurts the economy, and should be postponed until more Californians are employed. This logic is clearly flawed. Without AB 32 and other climate initiatives, California’s economy would be in an even worse state today. Delaying the climate law’s implementation will slow economic recovery even more, making it increasingly unlikely the criteria for its re-activation will ever be met.

A coalition known as Californians for Clean Energy Jobs has risen to the challenge of protecting California’s climate change law, and is campaigning for the defeat of Proposition 23. Coalition members include the American Association of Retired Persons, the American Lung Association, minority advocacy groups like the NAACP, and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. Supporters also come from less likely quarters: another member of the coalition is Pacific Gas & Electric, California’s largest utility.

California’s efforts to reduce the effects of climate change have been an economic boon to the state, keeping thousands of workers and families afloat during hard times. The clean energy innovators who have benefited from AB 32 must now rally around the climate change law. With powerful oil interests campaigning to halt action on climate change, preserving California’s place of leadership will require a mammoth effort. Thousands of jobs—and millions of tons of carbon emissions—hang in the balance. This is too important a moment to pass up.

Photo credit: Jeremy Levine Design