The night before an election that would decide the fate of California’s landmark climate change law, a panel of energy experts convened by Climate One debated whether AB 32 would catalyze or cripple the state’s economy. The measure before voters, Proposition 23, would suspend AB 32 until California achieves four consecutive quarters of unemployment below 5.5%.
Jack Stewart, President, California Manufacturers and Technology Association, and Tom Tanton, President, T2 & Associates, argued that with California suffering 12.4% unemployment, now is not the time to burden business with additional regulation. “There’s a lot of pain and very little gain,” in pushing ahead with the law, Tanton said. He also thought it foolish for California to strive for global leadership on climate change. “Nobody else is following our parade. And when nobody else is following your parade, then let’s stop and wait for everybody else to catch up.”
Stewart agreed, adding that fewer clean energy jobs have been created in California than claimed and other states are growing green jobs without AB 32-style legislation in place. “There has been a green job explosion across this country,” he said, citing a Pew report, which found 28 states to be producing green jobs at a rate faster than California. “Do we want to go forward and have a growing economy and hold off on AB 32,” Stewart asked, “or do we hobble the California economy and make it more difficult to employ the 2.3 million Californians who are out of work?”
Nancy Floyd, Founder and Managing Director, Nth Power, and Bob Epstein, Founder, Environmental Entrepreneurs, countered that cleantech is the fastest-growing job sector in California and critical to maintaining the state’s competitive edge globally. Floyd said that 500,000 green jobs have already been created in California, and that her venture firm alone had invested $200 million in 35 companies in the state. Contrary to claims that AB 32 will push jobs out of state, Floyd cited one Nth Power beneficiary, an ethanol and biodiesel firm formerly of Seattle, which had moved to California specifically because of AB 32. “It’s private dollars building out the infrastructure to be able to deliver renewable fuels to drivers in this state,” she said.
Epstein took issue with claims by Stewart and Tanton that California’s climate change rules would subject the state’s businesses to onerous regulations and uncertainty. “This legislation lays out a 10-year plan. For an oil company, they tell you every place you need to be for 10 years. It’s true they don’t know what happens in 2021, but, in 2015, they’ll find out. It’s very well laid out, and everybody knows where they stand.”
Win or lose on Nov. 2, Epstein said the fight over Prop 23 had succeeded in mobilizing interests – environmentalists, venture capitalists, utilities, and tech firms – with a stake in the green economy. “What you have done, by bringing Prop 23 to the table, is you united a community that really needed to be united,” he said.
– Justin Gerdes
Climate One, Commonwealth Club HQ, San Francisco (November 1, 2010)