California Dream 2.0

This summer, President Obama can accomplish what 40 years of presidents couldn’t

Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush. They differed in political philosophy, the proper role of government and national priorities – except for one thing. Every president in the last 40 years identified the existential threat to U.S. security of relying on foreign countries for energy and called for the United States to become energy-independent. Unsuccessfully, as it turned out.

(My organization, Environmental Defense Fund, has put together great video showing a montage of these commitments.) 

The awareness of this threat began in the ’70s with the Middle East oil embargo. Faced with blocks-long lines at gas stations and bizarre gas-hoarding schemes, President Richard Nixon launched “Project Independence” with a clarion challenge to Americans: “Let this be our national goal: At the end of this decade, in the year 1980, the United States will not be dependent on any other country for the energy we need to provide our jobs, to heat our homes and to keep our transportation moving.”

Nixon knew what Ford, Carter, Reagan and two Bush presidents also came to know: America’s dependence on fossil fuel from other parts of the world threatens our national security, hampers economic growth and clouds our country’s future prosperity. Despite understanding the problem and decrying it, those presidents were unable to solve it. Every day of 2010, Americans will ship about $1 billion to other countries to buy oil.  These billions strengthen regimes that repress their citizens and are hostile to our country.  

The only president in the last 40 years who has not failed to move America toward energy independence is Barack Obama. He still has the chance to make history. Debate over climate change shouldn’t cloud the crystal clear necessity of a federal energy and climate bill that will, at last, move the United States from weakness to strength as we reduce and end our dependence on foreign oil.

Now is the time for President Obama to transcend the failures of past presidents. To do so, he must personally take the lead on this issue–and, as he did with health care reform–drive energy reform over the finish line in Congress.

In the dog days of summer, our legislators are returning to Washington to get down to business with both eyes on November’s potentially epochal election. What could be more patriotic after Independence Day than to pass landmark energy and climate legislation that will strengthen our country, our economy and our leadership in the world?

That stance may sound too optimistic at this political hour. Some pundits carp that passing energy and climate legislation this summer will be “too hard,” “impossible,” “it’s not going to happen.” They were saying the same things about health care reform a scant few weeks before that bill’s historic passage. The difference-maker, if you listen to the insiders: President Obama’s personal involvement. 

Obama set out to be a transformational president. Answering four decades of exhortations from his Oval Office predecessors, Obama can now do for American energy independence what he did for American health care reform: lead the way and show our legislators how to make history while doing their patriotic duty.

Posted in Clean Energy, Climate, Politics / Comments are closed

Gushing oil in the Gulf Coast meets gushing oil money in California

Boy oh boy, what a mess in the Gulf of Mexico, brought to us by BP. Millions of gallons of crude oil continuing to gush, along with mumbled excuses and transatlantic trips to yacht races.  Unbelievable. 

Less known is that yesterday, California was delivered its own troubling environmental mess, compliments of two other oil companies, Valero and Tesoro.  

Late yesterday, California’s Secretary of State officially certified a proposition for November’s ballot bought and paid for by these out-of-state polluters. The Dirty Energy ballot proposition—as it deserves to be called—would repeal California’s clean air legislation, AB 32, until the state’s unemployment rate falls to levels we’ve only see three times in 35 years. 

According to the Secretary of State, more than $3 million has been spent to qualify it, 80 percent of that coming from special interests outside of California and 78 percent of which is oil money. Valero’s share: $1,050,000. Tesoro’s: $525,000. 

You’d think these companies would be cleaning up their own environmental messes instead of looking to create new ones; Valero and Tesoro were recently named the nation’s #12 and #32 polluters in the “Toxic 100 Air Polluters” report. 

What does $3 million buy in a California campaign? For starters, signatures that place this attack to our clean air and clean energy standards on the November ballot. Their campaign paid operatives to collect the 400,000-plus signatures needed to qualify it. They’ve also set up lobbying fronts under innocuous names that are lies – the “California Jobs Initiative,” the “AB 32 Implementation Group” – and paid for distorted “academic research” that claims that anti-pollution AB 32 will kill jobs. They then trumpet the fake findings in the media. Their dirty politics are on par with their dirty energy. 

It’s particularly ironic that Valero and Tesoro are pouring millions into this attack while the Gulf continues to suffer. Oh to be a fly on the wall when Valero chief Bill Kleese and team decided not to spend billion-dollar profits on helping clean up the Gulf, but instead pour money into rolling back environmental laws in California. 

 If the Gulf catastrophe has any silver lining, it’s a wake up call about the energy we need to power America. You don’t have to be a bleeding heart environmentalist to be troubled by these facts: 

  • Every day, we send $1 billion of Americans’ hard earned money to other countries to buy oil, a huge chunk of which goes to hostile, anti-American governments and leaders.    
  • Five-dollars-a-gallon gas is not only a possibility (remember how high prices were when Bush was in office?), it’s an inevitability based on growing demand and finite oil supplies. 
  • Our future economic success relies on access to energy. It’s literally what powers growth.  Without secure domestic, clean energy, we’re hostage to the whims of others’ dirty energy supplies. Do we want to stay dependent on countries like Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, now, and leave that future to our children?   

Of course, the specter of another major catastrophe in our own backyard lurks in the wings. If someone would have asked me whether an deep sea well could spew millions of gallons of oil and couldn’t be sealed for months, I would have said “malarkey.” A oil tanker running into the Bay Bridge? “Fantasy.”  But both became reality. What accident will happen next? And where? Every week, several huge oil tankers filled with crude oil gingerly navigate through the San Francisco bay. Amidst the Gulf Coast disaster, this is cause for concern. 

On its merits, the Dirty Energy Proposition wouldn’t stand a chance in the state that’s been leading America’s environmental progress for 50 years. That’s why the Texas oil companies aren’t going to convince us with merits. They’re going to overwhelm with naked appeals to economic fear delivered by all the crooked, misleading TV and online advertising their money can buy.  

For two months now, every day, we’ve seen images of the gushing oil well that is fouling our fragile wetlands and ecosystem, as oil washes ashore, covers and kills birds, turtles, whales and fish and threatens livelihoods. It will be interesting to see how Californians react to a local environmental mess in the making that’s been bought and paid for by out-of-state oil companies that are already polluting our Golden State.

Posted in Climate, Energy, Politics / Read 1 Response

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.

Posted in Clean Energy, Climate, Global Warming Solutions Act: AB 32 / Comments are closed

Obama: “The promise of the clean economy is not an article of faith. It’s here.”

Remember Bill Clinton’s moment in the ’92 campaign when he addressed a factory full of workers in New Hampshire about the new economic reality for manufacturing jobs and what it means for the future of our country? (John Travolta recaptured the moment in Primary Colors…ringing any bells?) It was Clinton at his best: direct, empathetic and visionary. 
President Barack Obama had his similar moment yesterday. The scene was a cavernous new manufacturing plant that will produce Solyndra’s advanced technology solar panels. Huge manufacturing floor, bright lights, giant American flag draped stage left.  The crowd of a few hundred included construction workers who built the plant, Solyndra employees that will be building the panels and an array of local officials.  

My visual vantage point of President Obama was between two construction workers with hardhats. A great frame from which to take in the President’s vision for the workers assembled around me. 

Fremont, California—explained the President—is a symbol of what we’ve lost in the recent national recession. If California has been hard hit by the downturn, Fremont has been punched in the face. The city lost more than 4,000 manufacturing jobs with the closure of the NUMMI auto plant, which had been a landmark partnership between Toyota and GM to keep jobs in America’s auto industry. Thousands of jobs in the community disappeared with the factory’s closure, and it looked like another sad chapter of American industrial decline. 

But luckily, another fate emerged.  Thanks to a $535 million federal loan guarantee from the Department of Energy—one of the key programs of last year’s stimulus program—Solyndra built its manufacturing plant in Fremont.  In the process, the company created thousands of jobs: 3,000 construction workers helped build the facility and companies from 12 states manufactured the equipment that will power it. After it opens, the plant will create thousands of new jobs and companies from 22 states will provide solar panel parts that will assembled at the factory.  Today, Obama drove home the point that Solyndra’s growth symbolizes how we can recapture our economic prosperity in the future. 

And the fate of the shuttered NUMMI plant?  It is being brought back to life.  Governor Schwarzenegger last week announced a new partnership between Toyota and Tesla Motor Company to produce electric cars in that factory. This exciting partnership won’t generate all the jobs that were lost, but it restores 1,200 positions. When combined with Solyndra and other local projects, it’s a slow but steady economic recovery thanks in part to California’s environmental leadership on clean energy policies. 

The growth of the clean economy, Obama said, is the cornerstone of our economic recovery and future economic growth in communities like Fremont all across America.  “No one is playing for second place” in the international race to become centers of clean technology development, he said. “The promise of the clean economy is not an article of faith. It’s here.” 

The President also laid bare the reality that “the heartbreaking spill” drives home the need to find new forms of domestic energy. “We won’t transition from oil tomorrow,” he explained, but the increased risks and costs of drilling show we need energy alternatives.  

To raucous applause, President Obama explained the need to pass comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation this year. “It’s good for the environment, good for the economy, and good for our security.”  

Indeed. Stimulus funding for innovative companies such as Solyndra are powerful resources to help them grow. But, ultimately, if the U.S. is going to step up and become the global leader on clean energy, a federal cap on greenhouse gas pollution is needed to create an even playing field that renewable energy companies such as Solyndra’s can compete on and win. 

The Solyndra story also demonstrates why it’s an economic imperative to fend off attacks on clean energy policy like the one being launched by the Dirty Energy Proposition, a measure on California’s November’s ballot that would, in essence, kill our landmark climate and clean energy bill, AB 32. 

Obama’s moment at Solyndra made the point like I’ve never seen it made before:  Our economic future lies in embracing clean technology, and it’s high time we stepped up to make this promise a reality.

Posted in Clean Energy, Climate, Politics / Comments are closed

The Dirty Air Act: An Attack on California’s Environmental Legacy

Any day now, the Senate will vote on Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski’s “Resolution of Disapproval.” During an interview this week with Betsy Rosenberg, host of Progressive Radio Network’s “On the Green Front,” I explained that environmental groups are deeply opposed to the bill, which would strip the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of all of its existing authority under the Clean Air Act to reduce carbon pollution. 

Talk about being on the wrong side of history. Amidst the ongoing oil spill in the Gulf and a national economic recession, the transition to a clean energy economy—and the jobs it will create—has never been more necessary or urgent.  

Passage of what’s come to be called the “Dirty Air Act” would be a disaster for our country, plain and simple. The bill takes a giant leap backward:  it would wipe out EPA’s scientific finding that greenhouse gases cause global warming and are a danger to public health–a finding that forms the legal basis for any further steps the EPA can take to address carbon pollution. 

It is also a slap in the face to California and an attack on our environmental legacy. Here’s why: it would dismantle one of President Obama’s major environmental accomplishments thus far—national vehicle efficiency and emissions standards that were spurred by California’s unparalleled leadership.

The national standards are based on California’s clean cars standard passed in 2002. Called the ‘Pavley Standard’ for its author and fearless champion State Senator Fran Pavley, it was the first law in the country to set limits on greenhouse gas pollution from tailpipes. 

California’s standards were adopted by 13 states but faced fierce resistance—and lawsuits—from automakers and the previous administration, which argued that states couldn’t adopt such standards and denied waivers that would allow them to do so. At the same time, the EPA denied its responsibility to reduce global warming pollution. A landmark Supreme Court ruling affirmed EPA’s power to address global warming pollution under the Clean Air Act and helped paved the way for putting the standards into effect. 

One of the Obama administration’s first environmental actions was to grant California’s long-standing request for a Clean Air Act waiver so they could implement the standards. Then the President went one step further. He helped forge an unprecedented agreement—with the EPA, Department of Transportation (DOT), U.S. automakers, United Auto Workers, EDF and other environmental organizations, plus California and other states—to set a national fuel efficiency and emissions standards for cars and light trucks for model years 2012-2016. These passenger vehicles account for 40 percent of U.S. oil consumption and 20 percent of our greenhouse gases. In exchange, California and other states agreed to drop their state standards. 

Those standards were strengthened last month and today President Obama signed a Presidential Memorandum in the Rose Garden directing the EPA and DOT to continue fuel economy improvements for those vehicles for model years 2017 and beyond and to create a first-ever national policy to increase fuel efficiency and decrease greenhouse gas pollution from medium- and heavy-duty trucks for model years 2014-2018. These measures will further reduce our dependence on oil, help cut fuel costs and create jobs.  

These historic achievements would be erased with passage of Murkowski’s bill by prohibiting the EPA from enforcing the standards. 

It’s a horrible attack on progress toward cleaner air and energy at a time when such progress is needed most. It’s a bailout for polluters and takes the EPA off the job for years. It would make us more dependent on foreign oil, do nothing to help American manufacturing compete with China or other nations in clean energy technologies, and cripple efforts to address global warming.  

It’s truly ironic that even as we watch what may end up being the most serious environmental and ecological disasters in our nation’s history – the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico – there are senators who are actively trying to block pollution regulations and hamstring the EPA’s ability to protect the public. 

(To tell your Senators that you want them to vote against this bill, hold polluters accountable and reduce America’s dependence on fossil fuels, please send them an email today.)

Posted in Climate, Politics, Transportation / Tagged , , | Comments are closed

Let’s be clear: American Power Act does not prevent California from implementing AB 32

I had a chance to join KQED’s Forum yesterday to discuss the American Power Act (APA) and what it means for California. (To read about the extensive show of support the Senate bill has received, please visit our Climate 411 blog.)

It was an interesting and wide-ranging conversation. We talked about whether the long-awaited bill hurts states such as California that are leading on clean energy policies. 

It doesn’t. But it’s easy to see why some reports have incorrectly assumed that the APA would prevent states from adopting landmark energy policies such as building energy standards, renewable portfolio targets or fuel efficiency requirements.

In fact, the current bill would expressly reward states such as California that are steering the nation toward a clean energy future and economy that is creating good, well-paying jobs.  

The federal bill sets up a national marketplace to put a price on greenhouse gas pollution and calls for reducing emissions 17 percent from 2005 by 2020. As we noted in a recent blog post about the bill, when it comes to creating economic markets to reduce greenhouse gas pollution, bigger is clearly better.    

California’s landmark clean energy act, AB 32, which passed in 2006, was the nation’s first law calling for a mandatory cap (limit) on greenhouse gas emissions. It is being implemented in stages and has already benefited the state’s burgeoning green economy.

AB 32 includes a roadmap for meeting a target of reducing emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. It includes more than 70 measures to reach the 2020 target and puts us on course to meet the more ambitious goal of cutting emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. 

Measures include more investments in solar and wind electricity generation, appliance efficiency standards for energy intensive electronics, “smart grid” development and transit-oriented housing development. It also includes establishing a cap-and-trade system that is expected to get additional reductions out of the utility, industrial and transportation sectors. 

The cap-and-trade portion of AB 32 would account for approximately one-fifth of total anticipated reductions and is the only AB 32 measure that’s exempted in the current proposal of the Senate bill.

In other words, the Senate bill would allow California to continue moving forward with AB 32 measures that are designed to help it achieve four-fifths of its targeted reductions.  

By doing so, California will also continue attracting billions of dollars in clean technology investments (we regularly receive the largest percent of domestic investments, which have tripled since AB 32 passed) and creating hundreds of thousands of jobs throughout the state (which are growing faster than any segment of our economy).

AB 32 can and will be a necessary complement to a federal climate bill. Simply put, we need strong national action on clean energy and pollution reduction and continued leadership and innovation from California. It’s not a case of “either/or” but a case of “both/and.”

Oil interests are fighting progress on both fronts. These special interests—led by the Valero Energy Corporation—will continue to try to stonewall fair competition from renewable energy at the federal level, while engaging in a deceptive campaign to kill AB 32 in California. 

Supporters of energy independence, clean energy jobs, and healthier air must fight back against big oil at both levels of government. Our time is now.

Posted in Clean Energy, Climate, Global Warming Solutions Act: AB 32, Politics / Comments are closed