Proposition 39: California's "Power Boost" for Energy Efficiency

Remember those scenes in the cartoons where the hero is about to be overtaken by the bad guys, but at the last minute he tells the co-pilot to turn on the “power boost” and the car leaps forward to the finish line?

Proposition 39 is our power boost, afterburner, or ultra-drive for energy efficiency, which already has saved Californians billions of dollars in lower energy bills and eliminated the need for 30 large power plants that would have spewed tons of toxic pollutants and carbon emissions into the air we breathe and water we drink.

California’s landmark building codes, appliance standards and utility programs have produced the cleanest, cheapest, fastest energy resource that we have: energy efficiency, which also creates good jobs and builds our economy. Proposition 39, which was passed by California voters last November, closes a corporate tax loophole costing California $1 billion annually and provides the opportunity to bring these benefits to some of the most deserving citizens of this state: children in disadvantaged neighborhoods and schools. 

That’s the message I conveyed and underscored this past Friday when I testified in San Diego before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Fiscal Oversight. I told the Subcommittee that I believe Proposition 39:

  • Will provide resources to retrofit and repair schools across the state to make them more efficient, cleaner and better places to educate our children;
  • Can lower the energy bills of cash-strapped school districts by 25-30% or more, freeing funds that can be invested in educational priorities;
  • Can create jobs that boost the economy of our communities and our state; and
  • Can lead to cleaner, safer schools for our children, boosting academic performance.

In addition, Proposition 39 can play a critical role in the broader context of national and international policy. As President Obama made clear in his inaugural address, the clean energy economy is key to economic revitalization, energy security, and environmental protection.

In particular, the president emphasized the need and his desire to take decisive action to address the threat of climate change. We need to act resolutely to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions in order to avoid the already alarming effects of climate change. Already, the gathering storm has begun to batter our shores. Across the country we face further withering droughts, heat waves, floods and destructive storms.

The good news is that we can reduce our emissions and respond to the threat of climate change while building our economy and putting people to work. Proposition 39 provides a “golden” opportunity to show that this can be done. In order to achieve this we need to implement it effectively, with integrity and with full public accountability. If we do this, we can provide a model for other states and for the federal government to follow.

This is the type of action that also will allow us to reach the energy efficiency targets integral to NRDC’s groundbreaking proposal for the states and federal government to partner in slashing climate-warming emissions from existing power plants.

While we have a huge task before us, it may be time to recall the words of then-Congressman Lyndon Johnson in 1941 when we were facing an enemy that had conquered most of Europe and that was spreading across Asia and the Pacific:

“Nothing so challenges the American spirit as tackling the biggest job on earth.”

Proposition 39 can help us meet the challenge of climate change.

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