California Dream 2.0

Clearer Roads, Clearer Skies and a Brighter Future for Los Angeles

June 16, 2011 | Posted by Kathryn Phillips in Congestion pricing, Parking Pricing, Sensible Cycling, Smart Pricing, Transit That Works, Transportation, Transportation and Behavior, Transportation and Climate Change, Transportation and the Climate, Travel Choice, Vision Los Angeles

(This blog is co-authored by EDF’s Kathryn Phillips and guest blogger Bill Allen of LAEDC and is being cross-posted from EDF’s Way2Go transportation blog.)

Ben Franklin once said nothing in this world is certain except death and taxes. People in Los Angeles County might offer two other certainties: traffic gridlock and air pollution. 

It doesn’t have to be this way. By engaging 15 specific but sensible strategies, the region can rid itself of routine gridlock and reduce its air pollution. Solving these problems will help improve the region’s economic outlook, and increase Angelenos’ quality of life. 

The strategies are laid out in Vision Los Angeles, a 30-year action plan—jointly  developed by Environmental Defense Fund and the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation—to achieve clearer roads and clearer skies in the county sooner than convention seems to offer. Its solutions were developed after much discussion and research by a team of top-notch consultants. The plan has been supported by a broad volunteer advisory group representing business, local government and the non-profit community. 

The response to Vision Los Angeles’ strategies have been positive, and good news exists in the details. We learned, for instance, it is easy to identify common ground when you bring up transportation in Los Angeles County. Nobody likes sitting in traffic and everybody wants clean air.

A lot of good work has already been done by a number of entities to lay a foundation for reducing traffic’s gridlock in the county. The proposal to leverage Measure R sales tax in a way that allows 12 mass transit projects to be built in 10 years instead of 30 is one example. The Southern California Association of Government’s COMPASS plan and Los Angeles Metro’s Long-Range Plan for the region contain a lot of good ideas that Vision Los Angeles strategies complement. 

The missing ingredients up until now have been ways to identify and prioritize the best ideas and foster their incorporation into everyday travel throughout the county. If you think of the transportation system as a computer, Los Angeles County has plenty of hardware but an insufficient operating system.  Most of the strategies we identified in Vision Los Angeles, taken as a whole, provide a more efficient operating system.  

A few examples of Vision Los Angeles’ strategies that will improve the region’s economic outlook and quality of life include:

  • Developing an application that provides real-time information about transit and traffic countywide that anyone with a cell phone can use;
  • Accelerating and expanding business and large institution use of transportation management associations (TMAs) to improve employee options for getting to and from work and reduce dependence on automobiles;
  • Employing smarter parking pricing and practices in major corridors; and
  • Creating a local access-efficient mortgage system that provides a variation on a revolving loan that allows employees to live closer to work.  

Most of our 15 strategies have been applied at some scale in Los Angeles County and in other parts of the world, eliminating the need to reinvent the wheel.  Significant transformation will depend on how fully these strategies can be implemented throughout the County. Their success also requires engagement from all sectors of the community. No one sector—and especially not government—can effectively tackle traffic issues alone. We are all in this together. 

Some Vision Los Angeles participants are developing pilot programs to demonstrate the strategies. Two early programs will focus on setting up TMAs in the healthcare, education and entertainment industries and facilitating mobility between networked work centers and housing programs.

 Air pollution costs the Los Angeles Air Basin at least $22 billion a year in lost days at work, lost days at school, healthcare and premature death, according to a studyconducted by California State University, Fullerton. Analysis by consultants Fehr & Peers indicates that if the Vision Los Angeles strategies are fully implemented, air pollution from transportation will be cut by more than 10 percent and greenhouse gas pollution will be cut by more than 9 percent. The solutions will also cut the number of vehicle hours of delay by 9 percent, a level that would make a significant difference in daily commutes.

With hundreds of millions of dollars already spent by the private and public sectors on transportation infrastructure each year, we need to get smart about how to achieve the greatest return on that investment.  A focus on fostering a more effective and efficient system will deliver the quality of life Angelenos expect and the boost to our economy Los Angeles County needs. 

Kathryn Phillips is director of the California Transportation and Air Initiative for Environmental Defense Fund, a national environmental organization and partner in Vision Los Angeles. 

Bill Allen is president and CEO of the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation.

Posted in Climate, Transportation / Comments are closed

Not the U.S. or China, but the U.S., China and the Planet

January 21, 2011

This was originally posted by Gernot Wagner in California, International, Markets 101, Politics in EDF’s Market Forces blog.

One of the pleasures of my job is having a slew of superbly qualified prospective interns knock on our doors. Yesterday, I interviewed someone who graduated at the top of his class at Renmin University in Beijing.

There have been plenty of column inches written on “China versus the US,” including when it comes to green jobs and clean tech. So,

Who’s going to come out ahead, China or the United States?

It took him nary a second to nail this one:

China, relatively. Both China and the U.S. in an absolute sense.

That’s the textbook answer.

The atmosphere wins

China has a lot of catching up to do. Comparatively, it will clearly gain on the U.S. But trade also has advantages for both parties involved. That’s why we trade in the first place.

The planet emerges as a winner as well. It doesn’t care where a ton of carbon gets emitted or where it gets reduced—just that reductions happen.

If China produces cheaper solar panels, we get fewer emissions overall. The planet wins. China wins. What about the U.S.?

What about jobs?

If you are among the 800 workers in Devens, MA, who last week found out that Evergreen Solar was moving its plant to China, you will feel very differently about free trade right about now. The textbook economic answer would say that the move can still make everyone better off: compensate the losers through portions of the gains from the winners, and everybody wins once again.

This situation, of course, is the moment when you throw out your textbook and think about the full consequences.

As a result of the move, solar panels will likely become even cheaper for everyone, enabling many more to buy them. Still, the Devens 800 will not be among the people lining up to buy cheaper solar panels.

What can they do? What should the U.S. do as a matter of policy?

First, we need to realize that the rules of trade still apply. China has lots of cheap labor. It does and will continue to manufacture many products sold in the U.S. Solar panels are no different.

But that’s still not a satisfying answer, nor is it the whole story—not for manufacturing itself, and not for the clean tech industry overall.

How to keep clean tech jobs in the U.S.

To get to the bottom of this, we need to look at the full supply chain for solar panels. This, of course, oversimplifies things, but we can split the entire process into three distinct buckets: inventing, producing, and installing.

Right now, the U.S. is inventing, China is producing, and it is the one installing the resulting solar panels domestically at massive scale.

The U.S. ought to do everything to make sure it keeps inventing clean tech products. That means a concerted push to fund basic research and development. But R&D subsidies alone won’t do.

Many mentions of “R&D” add a second “D” for deployment. Government support can get things going, but large-scale deployment of clean technologies won’t happen through subsidies alone (at least not without bankrupting the government).

So how do you get deployment up to scale?

Deployment clearly needs to be driven by demand. That’s where a cap on carbon pollution, with its resulting price on carbon, comes in. A cap helps create a more level playing field for solar and other renewable energy sources relative to fossil energy and, therefore, creates the necessary demand. (There are alternatives, like simply requiring a certain percentage of power to come from solar, but none is quite as cheap and flexible as a cap.)

Made in USA?

Moreover, cheap labor and cheaper production facilities may be a decisive factor, but they are not the only reason companies consider when choosing where to locate. There are many more, but let’s focus on two: intellectual property (IP) protection and being close to where the demand is.

The U.S. has a leg up on China in terms of IP protection. That’s, in part, why the U.S. (still) leads on R&D. It’s also a clear draw for some companies to locate their production facilities in the U.S.

Another oft-cited reason is to be close to consumers. That’s once again where the importance of the second “D”—deployment—comes in. The more demand there is for solar panels in the U.S., the more companies will locate their production plants in the U.S. as well. The case of First Solar supplying panels for Wal-Mart is a prime example. (Note that this is distinct from cheaper production leading to more demand in the first place.)

In the end, though, we must also be clear that jobs will be different in the new, cleaner economy. We will need fewer gas station attendants. Many other jobs will thrive. Underlying trade forces will mean that China may well be producing many of the solar panels sold globally. Assembling, installing, and maintaining solar panels in the U.S. will require plenty of skilled labor. And none of these jobs can be exported.

California leading

With the right policies in place, the U.S. will keep inventing. It will also create thousands of jobs dedicated to deployment. China will play a major role in producing, but even there, smart environmental policy can only help.

California is taking the lead with its Million Solar Roofs initiative, creating many a job assembling, installing, and maintaining solar panels. That initiative, though, still has to be paid for by tax dollars, and it won’t go on forever.

That’s where the cap on carbon kicks in. California is bound to stay ahead of the rest of the U.S. with its ambitious cap-and-trade system that starts on January 1, 2012 and the resulting market signal that says that clean tech pays in the U.S. as well.

Consider the just-released Next 10 report, Many Shades of Green, that found that in the most recent observable 12-month period (January 2008 – January 2009) jobs in the green sector grew more than three times faster than total employment in California. (Of course, all of this always comes with the warning that green sector jobs are still a small fraction of total jobs—much like IT jobs were a minuscule part of overall employment in the early 1980s.)

One of our internship spot may well end up going to a Chinese student, but that, too, can only be good for the planet—making a small contribution to help train the next generation of Chinese environmental leaders. And rest assured, there are plenty more open job positions (including one for a post-doc working with our economic team, open to anyone with a Princeton affiliation).

Posted in Clean Energy, Climate, Politics / Read 1 Response

Brown Brings Life and Hope to Transit Funding

This piece was originally posted in EDF’s Way2Go blog and was written by Kathryn Phillips.

The last two years have been grim ones around the country for transit agencies.  The economy’s slide has meant cuts in funding for drivers, managers and mechanics, and that’s generally meant cuts in service.

California’s transit agencies have been especially hard hit. As the state’s deficit grew bigger and bigger (it’s higher than $27 billion today), the legislature and then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger began digging into state funds designated for transit to fund other essential services. The battles that erupted and the maneuvers to protect transit that evolved as a result were complex enough that only a 19th-Century Russian novelist could do the tale justice.

This week California’s newly inaugurated governor, Jerry Brown, began restoring life to transit and California’s transit users. He unveiled his 2011-2012 budget proposal and it includes a boost in transit funding. As one transit official suggested, it will help stop the bleeding.

The word on the street has been that this governor gets it about transit. He gets that good transit is essential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and health-threatening air pollution, to get people to work and school, to reduce traffic congestion and make daily travel more reliable.

There were many reasons to believe this might be true. Throughout his career—two other terms as governor, two terms as mayor of Oakland, a term as attorney general—Brown has demonstrated that he thinks Californians need to be creative and smart about how we deal with transportation demand. Still, until that first budget came out, there was only hope.

The governor’s budget proposal now has some hurdles to clear. It now goes to the legislature where there will be hearings and debate and more debate,  leadership meetings, and finally a series of legislative votes.

If it clears these hurdles, the proposal won’t totally solve the transit funding crisis in this state. However, it will help restore and maintain some service, and it settles the Capitol feuding over whether the state should even contribute to transit operations funding. With that settled, Californians can start the real conversation about how to pay for the level of transit Californians need.

Posted in Politics, Transportation / Comments are closed