Transitioning to an Emerging Green Economy

Joel Fox
Editor of Fox & Hounds and President of the Small Business Action Committee

California may not be alone in its efforts to deal with climate change but neither can state officials ignore the need for a smooth transition to a greener economy that would rely on traditional energy sources. That was the message gleaned from the opening sessions of the 10th annual VerdeXchange conference in Los Angeles dedicated to promoting a green economy.

David Heurtel, Quebec Province’s Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment, and the Fight Against Climate Change, argued that California cannot be considered an outlier in the climate change debate given the state’s position as the sixth largest economy in the world. Quebec has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with California creating a linked cap-and-trade system.

State Senator Bob Hertzberg spoke of recent meetings with Chinese officials and Oregon legislators promoting strategies for preventing climate change. The Canadian Minister pointed out that when China employs its cap-and-trade program nationally, as it has proposed to do, 60% of the world’s GDP would be covered by cap-and-trade laws.

For California and its businesses cap-and-trade has been rocky. Questions remain whether the program as currently set-up is legal, whether the state will stick with its cap-and-trade program and how successful it might be in reducing greenhouse gases.

For the business community those questions are important. George Minter, Regional Vice-President External Affairs and Environmental Strategy for Southern California Gas Company said many decisions made by California businesses are made within the context of regulations and laws that govern energy.

But those regulations and laws could hamper a smooth transition to a more sustainable economy if the laws are too restrictive. Catherine Reheis-Boyd, President of Western States Petroleum Association laid out realities about California’s need for energy. By 2040, she said, the state’s population will probably increase by another 10 million people and the state will need 25% more energy than it uses today.

“You can’t turn off tomorrow,” Reheis-Boyd said, arguing that transition to more renewable energy will need to be supported by all energy sources.

How the federal government addresses California’s climate change efforts also was discussed at the forum. The Gas Company’s Minter said he doesn’t see California’s laws rolled back by the federal government because of the state’s size and influence. However, state Senator Bob Wieckowski said despite California’s strong environmental laws it relies on federal money to implement those laws. Wieckowski expressed hope that the business community would speak up on behalf of the state’s environmental laws. He said businesses told California’s environmental story at the Paris Climate Summit.

Federal action on renewable energies most likely would come directly from actions on tax reform and indirectly on market performance according to Jonathan Weisgall, VP of Government Relations for Berkshire Hathaway Energy. Tax credits are important in the development of alternative energies, Weisgall said. How the renewable energy tax credits will be treated in tax reform will be telling.

Weisagll insisted that the market is already speaking about energy sustainability with both business and residential customers moving in the direction of sustainability and many Fortune 500 companies focusing on sustainability.

Weisgall suggested changing the rhetoric in climate change debate could both keep green energy goals intact while convincing the Trump Administration to move in that direction. “What is happening in wind and solar is what Trump campaigned on,” he said, creating jobs in the USA.

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