No on California Prop 23: When it comes to climate policy, reversing course is the real job killer

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September 10, 2010

Today’s guest CAP bloggers are Van Jones and Jorge Madrid.

Defenders of dirty energy like to pretend that having smarter climate policies (and more support for clean energy) would cost Americans jobs. Not only are they wrong, but – according to prominent business leaders this week [and a new study] – their “deny and delay” tactics are now turning out to be the true job killers.

Business leaders appearing in a town hall style panel this week at the National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas, Nevada said that they don’t fear new rules to better control carbon pollution. What they fear is uncertainty about what those rules will be President and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Tom Donohue, was joined by billionaire investor T. Boone Pickens, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and John Podesta, the President and CEO of the Center for American Progress. One word was repeated the most throughout the entire afternoon session: certainty.

“We’ve got to get certainty,” Donohue said. “People want to invest and make money. Tell us what the deal is, and let’s get on with it!” Every panelist agreed that certainty was the name of the game for businesses and business owners who are struggling in a most uncertain time of national recession. Investors want certainty as well, so they know what businesses and industries to pour their private capital into, and what kinds of prices they can expect in the medium and long-term.

Unfortunately, America is getting the opposite of certainty – even in places where issues related to climate and clean energy were thought long-settled.

Take California, for example. Leaders in both major parties joined forces and have already passed smart, bi-partisan rules to better control carbon pollution in the state. California’s Global Warming Solutions Act, also known as Assembly Bill 32, or “A.B. 32,” catalyzed billions of dollars in private sector investment in clean energy in the state—creating jobs, businesses, and new technologies. AB 32 sent a clear message to investors and businesses that clean energy will be the future economic engine for California.

It’s no accident that California leads the nation in solar power, as well as in clean energy venture capital. It is also no accident that California has “the largest clean energy economy of the 50 states” according to a 2009 Pew study. This leadership is a result of state policies providing financial incentives for clean energy development, renewable energy and energy efficiency standards – among others. By implementing far-sighted, predictable rules to support a clean energy transition, the golden state was able to attract clean tech investors and firms.

But Texas oil interests conspired this year to upset the established consensus. They placed on the November ballot a measure to effectively undo the existing climate legislation.

The upcoming vote has introduced wild uncertainty into the state’s policy environment, leaving businesses and investors understandably hesitant to invest more in the state. Thus Proposition 23, a dirty oil, dirty air initiative, threatens to annihilate one of the greatest foundations of business progress and job growth that the state has.

If Certainty is the Name of the Game, Then Proposition 23 is Game Over.

Proposition 23 would destroy half a million jobs in California (many in construction and high-tech manufacturing) by 2020 while costing the state $80 billion in gross domestic product. This number does not even include the $20 billion in GDP growth and 100,000 new clean energy jobs California can create in the next 10 years if its environmental and clean energy policies are upheld (and Proposition 23 is voted down).

The panelists in this week’s clean energy town hall were absolutely correct – we need a strong signal of certainty for businesses and investors. Only then can we begin to unlock the private capital that has been sitting idle, waiting for us to get our act together.

Of course, California is not alone. The entire country is similarly being held hostage by uncertainty.

New York Times columnist and bestselling author Thomas Friedman wrote the book on scaling up clean energy. He points to Germany for a telling example: “Regulatory, price and connectivity certainty… explains why Germany now generates almost half the solar power in the world today. One thing that has never existed in America — with our fragmented, stop-start solar subsidies — is certainty of price, connectivity and regulation on a national basis.”

Business leaders are ready to act, but they are waiting on the sidelines for a signal. Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp notes: U.S. utility companies today “are sitting on billions of dollars in job-creating capital — but they will not invest in new energy projects until they have certainty on what their future carbon obligations will be.”

Clean energy is one part of the economy that will continue to experience substantial growth, despite the persistence of a potent national recession. With our planet and pocketbooks in peril, the clean energy economy is helping to create jobs as well as fight pollution and climate change.

It’s bad enough for business that China is now the most attractive market for investing in renewable energy; today the U.S. is ranked number 2 on the list, but where will we be in ten years if we repeal the most aggressive clean energy policy we have?

More certainty means more confidence on the part of the investors and businesses. And more confidence means more capital will flow to business investments. More investment means more jobs created for the 2.3 million unemployed California’s.

Let’s Get Some Certainty, Vote NO on Prop 23!

Van Jones, is a Senior Fellow, and Jorge Madrid, a Research Associate, at the Center for American Progress.

On Labor Day, How We Can Give Both Workers and Our Environment a Chance

Kimberly Freeman Brown and David Foster

This Labor Day, America is facing a dizzying array of problems, none more acute than the twin crises of how poorly we treat our workers and how appallingly we treat our planet. In case anyone believes these issues are distinct and need to be addressed separately, let’s remember some of this year’s grisly headlines:

• “Massey Accident, Worst Since 1970, Claims 29 Miners”

• “Families bid farewell to 11 men killed in Gulf rig explosion”

• “5 workers killed in explosion at Middleton, Conn., power plant”

While the environmental and labor disasters at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine, the BP oil rig, and the Kleen Energy natural gas plant have topped the news, the everyday struggles of working people have continued unabated.

Struggles such as the construction worker forced to work more hours for less pay, building outdated structural designs in dangerous conditions. Or the tomato picker breaking her back in a hot, pesticide-soaked field, gathering vegetables destined for a supermarket shelf. Or the factory worker forced into an ever-faster production line that spits out toxic byproducts, putting his health and safety at risk with little or no health care benefits.

These conditions are the reality faced by millions of America’s workers. But we do not have to accept them as the cost of doing business in this country. There is a better way.

Years ago, labor and environmental advocates realized that in order to preserve our environment and create jobs in America, investing in a clean energy economy was critical. Today, green jobs are growing, and America’s workers must benefit from the full potential and promise of the green economy.

There are a select number of forward-thinking employers already paving the way toward a green economy. They are collaborating with their employees as equal partners, respecting their decision to join unions, and creating good, green, union jobs — where workers receive family-sustaining wages, fair benefits, safe workplaces, and retirement security.

Green builders such as Oregon-based Gerding Edlen Development are paving the way. Having led the first LEED-Platinum certified renovation of a building on the National Register of Historic Places, Gerding Edlen sees its highly-trained, union workforce as key to its success. As CEO Mark Edlen says, “Union workers bring the skill set, creativity, and workplace safety the company needs to execute such complex projects: that’s why Gerding Edlen uses union labor.” Not surprisingly, the firm has topped the Oregon Business Journal’s annual list of the best green companies to work for two straight years, and has been voted one of Oregon’s most admired companies at least four years in a row.

In the agriculture industry, Eurofresh is transforming vegetable production through its sustainable growing practices. Food safety is a top priority at the Arizona-based company, which credits the union-led orientation and training programs for raising production standards. All of its produce is greenhouse-grown, reducing land and water use, and is certified pesticide residue-free — protecting the health of consumers, workers, and the environment.

Perhaps most exciting of all, the new clean energy economy is bringing good manufacturing jobs back to the United States. United Streetcar, a subsidiary of Oregon Iron Works, is building the first American-made modern electric streetcars in almost 60 years. And the company is doing more than easing congestion and reducing pollution through its streetcars through good, green jobs in Oregon — its dedication to using U.S. suppliers is reigniting an entire industry. United Streetcar today produces the first modern streetcars to comply with “Buy America” provisions: 70 percent of its trams’ components are domestically produced, and the company is striving to use entirely U.S.-made components. As a result, orders with United Streetcar create or save jobs at vendors across America, from manufacturers of fiberglass and flooring to seats and wheel sets.

All of these environmentally-responsible innovators are exciting, and they are made possible by the skill and expertise of America’s union workers. Together with their forward-thinking employers, these employees are proving that we can build a win-win economy in which businesses thrive, the planet prospers, and workers share in the success they help create.

This Labor Day, as the country reels from one labor and environmental disaster after another, the United States needs the leadership of pioneering employers like these — visionaries who recognize that in the 21st century, respect for workers, respect for the planet, and respect for the bottom line are, in fact, one and the same.

Kimberly Freeman Brown is Executive Director of American Rights at Work Education Fund, an educational and outreach organization dedicated to promoting the freedom of workers to form unions and bargain collectively, which just released its new report The Labor Day List: Partnerships that Work.

David Foster is Executive Director of the BlueGreen Alliance, a national partnership of nine U.S. labor unions and two of America’s largest environmental organizations — uniting nearly nine million members and supporters — that is dedicated to expanding the number and quality of jobs in the clean energy economy.

This article was published originally in The Hill’s Congress Blog.

In the Midst of Gulf Disaster, New National Ocean Policy Gives Hope for Our Seas

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Sigourney Weaver

I have always loved the oceans. My father was a Navy man and one requirement he had for us growing up was that we had to live near a body of saltwater. I was raised listening to foghorns by night and being chased by horseshoe crabs by day.

The oceans are filled with so much life and variety — nearly all of it hidden from our sight. This makes the process of learning about the seas an endless series of surprises, a constant discovery of secrets. Like a lot of us, I always thought the oceans were infinite, vast and forgiving of what we were doing to them. They seemed somehow indestructible.

Now we know that’s not true and these same features that make the oceans wonderful — their mystery and other-worldliness — have also worked to their disadvantage. Life beneath the surface is often out-of-sight and therefore out-of-mind. As a result, we tend to forget a rather important fact: we depend on the oceans for our survival regardless of where we live or what we eat. After all, our oceans generate most of our oxygen, regulate our climate, and directly provide a critical food source for much of our population. We cannot prosper unless the oceans prosper, too.

But as the oil disaster continues to ravage the Gulf of Mexico and the people who depend on it, we are being reminded daily of the often-forgotten value of these resources, and our responsibility to protect them. That’s why I was filled with hope today when President Obama announced he is creating the first-ever comprehensive national policy — like a Clean Air or Water Act — to protect our oceans. It is now clearer than ever that our country needs this to protect our oceans from the threats they face. If we had a policy like this in place before the Deepwater Horizon rig sunk — not only would we have better able to respond, an accident like this might not have happened there are at all.

This is the most significant action any U.S. President in history has ever taken for our seas. It will help make our oceans stronger and healthier, and help them fight off the myriad of threats they face today. It will help clean up the pollution that contaminates our beachwater, protect endangered species, keep the seafood we love on our plates, and make the oceans more resilient to the impacts of climate change.

My recent film, Avatar, took viewers to a magical place called Pandora, where the residents fight to save the natural world they depend on for survival from destruction at the hands of humans who have invaded their planet. You may not know that I also recently narrated a short documentary film called Acid Test, produced by the Natural Resources Defense Council, which looks at the fight to save our oceans right here on Earth. While we can see the impacts that the oil disaster is having on the Gulf and its residents, Acid Test explores a less visual secret our seas have kept from scientists for too long — a phenomenon called ocean acidification — and what we must do to protect them from this new threat.

For decades, we’ve known about the link between carbon dioxide emissions and climate change. Only recently did scientists begin to realize that carbon dioxide emissions, about one quarter of which dissolve in the ocean and turn into acid, threaten dramatic changes from the bottom to the top of the food chain. Called ocean acidification, this process puts coral, shellfish and some plankton at direct risk and threatens repercussions to the fish, birds, dolphins and whales that depend on them for food.

If our oceans are to survive acidification, there are two critical steps we must take. First and foremost, we must cut our carbon emissions and transition to a clean energy economy routed in efficiency and renewable power. And second, we must make our oceans as healthy, and therefore resilient, as possible in the face of the coming impacts — President Obama has set us on that path today.

The creation of a national policy shows us there are solutions, and we can achieve them. It fills me with promise for a future of healthy oceans. And, in the face of the oil disaster and ocean acidification, it leaves me with hope that this generation, and those that follow, will still be able to share in the wonder of the sea for years to come.

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