On California’s Leadership: the Journal Gets it Wrong, Obama Gets it Right

Leave it to dyed-in-the-wool opponents to find a cloud in every silver lining. As clean tech investment and jobs continue flowing into California due in part to the state’s 50-year environmental leadership—as President Obama’s recent visit to a solar company in Fremont underlined—the Wall Street Journal has found a convenient scrap of partisan “evidence” that California’s Clean Air Act (AB 32) will hurt business. 

Taking out of context a narrow – and debatable – state Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) opinion on just one element of AB 32’s impact, the Journal predicted that AB 32 will drive businesses out of the state editorializing, “a state already leading the nation in lost jobs and businesses, home foreclosures and debt doesn’t need higher self-imposed energy costs.” 

The real story behind the LAO’s latest report on AB 32’s economic impact is much different than the Journal would lead readers to believe. The question the LAO was answering was a “gotcha” query submitted by Assemblyman Dan Logue, who is fronting for Texas oil companies in leading the proposed Dirty Energy ballot initiative to suspend AB 32. 

Logue didn’t broadly ask the LAO to look into how AB 32 is going to affect California business. He cleverly worded his inquiry to ask, in effect, “How will AB 32’s implementation in 2012 affect California business if other Western U.S. states and Canadian provinces aren’t yet ready to implement their own clean air policies?” (italics added) 

Even with that loaded question, all Logue was able to elicit from the LAO was the vague opinion that some energy-intensive businesses might be affected “in the near term;” that is, until other states and provinces in the West – or the entire United States and Canada – adopt similar policies to bring their citizens cleaner, more secure and more efficient energy and transportation technologies. 

Even that mild, hedged response flies in the face of extensive research by others including the California Air Resources Board, which estimates that AB 32 will result in economic growth and significantly cut pollution.  

So who are we going to believe, the Journal’s editors or the numbers showing that California has the largest domestic clean energy economy? 

Here are the facts: AB 32 has helped California’s economy. It has made California a magnet for clean tech investment and accelerated the commercialization of renewable energy projects, many in regions of the state that have been hard hit by the recession. To wit:

  • A solar project by Southern California Edison will hire more than 1,200 workers in the state’s Inland Empire.
  • Electric carmaker Tesla Motors announced a joint venture with Toyota at the former NUMMI plant in Fremont and expects to hire 1,000 workers.
  • BYD Co., the Chinese auto and battery maker backed by Warren Buffett, is locating its North American headquarters in downtown Los Angeles. It will hire California workers.
  • Spain’s leading wind company, Power System will open its U.S. office in San Diego “to bring us closer to our North American customers and enable us to offer our solutions to the wind turbines and solar power markets in this region. ” 

Want more facts? California‘s leadership in transitioning to a clean energy economy has solidified its market leading position with the greatest number of clean tech jobs (500,000 now with 1.2 million jobs forecast by 2020) in the country. It is home to seven of the nation’s top 10 clean tech companies, according to the Journal’s own analysis and got more than $2.1 billion in venture capital investment in 2009 – 60 percent of North America’s total and 5 times more than our nearest competitor, Massachusetts. In fact, green jobs in California are growing faster than jobs in any other sector. 

When the latest LAO report predicting possible “leakage” of California business to other states was published, several California clean tech business leaders issued a rebuttal.  

Simply put, the Journal got it wrong. President Obama got it right when he visited an innovative solar company in the Bay Area this week, declaring that he wasn’t ready to cede American global leadership in clean technology to any other country. He observed that “it’s fitting that this technology is being pioneered here in California. Where else, right? For generations, this part of the country has always embodied the entrepreneurial spirit that has always defined America’s success.” 

The facts speak for themselves. California is attracting and growing businesses that recognize this golden opportunity. Not only can businesses in every industry cut costs by reducing emissions, they can use this opportunity to position their business to compete in the trillion dollar clean-energy market.

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