Powering California’s Clean Energy Job Mill

Whoever claims that jobs and the environment don’t go hand in hand has never been to California. As our state, the eighth largest economy in the world, continues to face a tailspin of budget woes, reports continue to show that the largest job gains are in the clean energy field. This is a state that has transformed the national clean energy economy and is a historic leader in advancing energy efficiency, renewable energy development and manufacturing, yet lately whenever we find ourselves in a budget crunch, the very environmental protection laws that have contributed to our State’s success are among the first things Sacramento considers sacrificing.

It’s a false sacrifice usually masked by the promise of “shovel-ready” jobs. I made this same argument last year when the Governor proposed to exempt eight infrastructure projects from California’s Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) in an effort to get people to work during the first months of the recession. It’s a false and ultimately fruitless choice to give any project immunity from our state’s bedrock environmental law and excuse any environmental fallout from the projects that ultimately aren’t job creators, at least certainly not for the long-haul.

Now there’s another budget proposal to exempt more projects from CEQA to solve the current budget battle and another separate effort is underway to “suspend” California’s landmark global warming law enacted in 2006 in a thinly veiled attempt by industry to derail the monumental progress California has made in adopting a path to clean energy. Both attempts characterize economic growth as distinct from environmental protection, which cannot be further from the truth.

State Senator Steinberg addressed that falsehood earlier this week: “the notion that we can revitalize our economy by making it easier to decimate our environment is simply false.  I don’t know any Californian who wants to live, work, and raise their family in a state where we make it easier to pollute the air that we breathe and the water that we drink.”

Here are a few stats we should keep in mind from a recent Next 10 report on California’s clean energy job force. These are local, good-paying, real jobs that invest in American ingenuity and retain homegrown technology advances as we move our country beyond our addiction to oil.

  • Between 2007-2008, clean jobs in California grew 5% while total jobs dropped 1%.
  • Between 1995-2008, green businesses increased 45%, green jobs grew 36% while total jobs in the state grew only 13%.
  • Employment in Energy Efficiency increased 63% from 1995-2008.
  • Employment in Green Transportation has increased 152% since 1995.

While we all know that global economic conditions have taken a toll on our national and state economies, here in California, we have an unparalleled record of generating economic profit while controlling pollution because we have been doing both for the last 35 years.  State energy policies have also saved California households $56 billion from 1972-2006.

California has much at stake when politics dictates our job growth, but we also have much to gain by sticking to solutions that have added to our economy over the years and created thousands of jobs in a sector that is expected to continue advancing across the country.

While California found religion in the clean tech industry decades ago, many states are just recently following our example. We continue to outpace other states in their investments in the clean energy industry as our state strives to attain a third of our power from renewable energy by 2020. No other state can match the scope of that goal and our determination and yet there are efforts to roll back our investments in the clean tech field in favor of subsidies for dirty industries that continue to drag their heels when it comes to supporting California’s pioneering clean energy standards.

We must tell our leaders not to sacrifice our environment, where we live and work, for short-sighted gains that will only delay California’s progress in becoming the world leader for the clean energy economy.