The Inland Empire is home to some of the worst air pollution in the nation, and though we are seeing some slow improvement in air quality here, Riverside County remains part of one of the country’s top 25 most air polluted regions. Prop 23, which is on the statewide ballot next week, would put the brakes on clean energy development in California, and would be a huge setback in our progress toward cleaner air and a world-leading clean energy economy.
Texas oil companies – including Valero, Tesoro and Koch Industries – are the principal backers of Prop 23. Why? Our move to a clean energy economy is a direct threat to their industry, whose product is gasoline, whose byproduct is dirty air and damaged health and whose simple equation is the more gasoline they sell in California, the greater their profits.
That’s why they are spending millions of dollars in an attempt to pass Prop 23. In fact, 98 percent of campaign cash for Prop 23 is from oil companies; 89 percent of it is from out-of-state.
While we have a distance to go, I’m encouraged that we’ve made some measurable progress on air pollution here in the Inland Empire, where the American Lung Association in California has found fewer days of particle pollution this year than in 2009. If passed, Prop 23 would stall that progress, requiring the state to abandon for now its comprehensive clean air and clean energy standards that include increased renewable energy and cleaner fuel requirements, and mandatory emission reporting and fee requirements for major polluters.
Prop 23 would not allow these programs to resume until the state’s unemployment rate drops to 5.5 percent for a full year – something that’s happened just three times in 40 years. California’s economy is recovering, but it will likely be more than a dozen years before unemployment drops that low, stifling development of clean energy technologies and setting back California’s efforts to compete with other states and with fast developing nations like China in winning our share of the new economy- years we may not have.
We need clean energy to stay on track. Clean energy means cleaner air. Plants that produce dirty energy also spew particulate pollution, so residents living near those facilities are exposed to high levels of air pollutants, such as smog-forming ozone and soot, which are linked to asthma, heart attacks and lung cancer.
Clean energy also means jobs. Every megawatt of new solar energy creates an average of 33 jobs. The clean tech and clean energy sectors employ 500,000 people statewide, with more than 12,000 companies developing wind, solar and other renewable energy projects, as well as a wide variety of energy-saving technologies. I’m proud of this region’s progress on clean energy and green jobs – Prop 23 will derail those advancements.
Half a million Californians work in green and clean tech jobs. Since 2005, California green jobs have grown 10 times faster than the statewide average. Clean energy products and services represent an immense and growing market. For instance, a report by the Cleantech Group identifies at least $10 billion of market opportunity in 2010, growing to almost $80 billion of market opportunity in 2020. California, with its concentration of clean tech industries stands to gain much of this investment and still more of these new jobs.
Still, the sponsors of Prop 23 try to claim California’s clean energy law is bad for the economy. California’s nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office has strongly disproved such claims, finding the economic calculations the Prop 23 backers used "essentially useless," adding that suspension of the clean energy law could "dampen additional investments in clean energy technologies or in so-called ‘green jobs’ by private firms, thereby resulting in less economic activity."
Rolling back California clean air laws would set a dangerous precedent that could chill efforts nationwide and across the globe to control pollution and address climate change. We owe it to our children and future generations to provide clean, healthy air.