Good jobs and protecting the environment don’t have to be mutually exclusive

Workers install solar panels on Highway 41, east of Cholame.
Workers install solar panels on Highway 41, east of Cholame. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Note to readers: Each week through November 2019, a selection of our 101 California Influencers answers a question that is critical to California’s future. Topics include education, healthcare, environment, housing and economic growth.

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California Influencers this week answered the question: How can California create jobs without damaging the environment? Below are the Influencers’ answers in their entirety.

Anthony Rendon - Speaker of the California State Assembly

I don’t think we should see jobs and the environment as a conflict. That is a false choice. California is proof that protecting the environment is one of the most promising ways to create jobs. Greenhouse gas emissions controls have spurred innovations and jobs in fields ranging from energy production to auto manufacturing. We are talking about hundreds of thousands of jobs. In fact, clean energy jobs now outnumber those in fossil fuels. We have to keep focusing on protecting Californian jobs and protecting the world we live in. The two goals go hand in hand.

James Gallagher - California State Assemblymen (R-Yuba City)

It’s not a Hobson’s choice. With our technology and innovation we can have jobs in oil, natural gas, timber, agriculture, solar, wind, electric vehicles, aerospace, shipping, and more. In fact, in order to have safe and secure food and more resilient forests and watersheds we must. It is a truly radical and disingenuous agenda that says we need to eliminate industries, airplanes or cows in order to be clean or green. The reality is every human activity and industry will have some impact on the environment. Even the Green Dealers have to admit that full electrification has impacts like increasing mining and carbon emissions for the materials needed for batteries. We all want to protect against legitimate threats to the environment. Our goal should be to balance the need for economic growth and jobs with protecting our environment. That was the original intent behind the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Unfortunately, CEQA and other environmental rules are being abused by NIMBYs and special interests. Attorneys are paid to either thwart projects or extract special deals and the legitimate balancing has been lost. The result is we lose out on projects that would otherwise create housing or jobs for Californians.

Kate Gordon - Director of the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research

There is no fundamental conflict between policies that drive good environmental outcomes and policies that create good jobs.

In California, we’ve put in place the strongest climate and environmental goals in the U.S. while growing an economy that is now the fifth largest in the world. That growth has led to hundreds of thousands of jobs in the very industries that are creating a more environmentally-friendly California: solar installation, electric vehicle manufacturing, and construction of green and efficient buildings among them.

Our challenge going forward – one Governor Newsom has embraced – is to make sure our environmental and climate policies don’t just create jobs, but actually create and maintain high quality jobs. While supporting those who are building the low-carbon technologies and projects of the future, we must ensure they are paying the family-supporting wages and benefits necessary to attract and retain skilled workers—while also making these jobs available and accessible to all Californians.

Henry Ford famously paid his workers enough to afford to buy his vehicles, so they would be fully invested in the new auto economy. If we truly want a sustainable low-carbon future, our workers deserve the same.

Danielle Osborn Mills - Director of the American Wind Energy Association of California

In the face of climate change, jobs and environmental protections should go hand-in-hand. Building new utility-scale renewable energy and strengthening our transmission system will ensure low-cost clean energy for all Californians. New wind and solar are the cheapest, fastest, and most reliable sources of new clean energy available, but to deploy them at scale, we need to modernize our electrical grid. All of this will require a massive deployment of workers to strengthen our clean energy infrastructure; this means everything from trimming trees to upgrading and expanding transmission lines to access areas with robust renewable resources. This buildout is also key to reducing pollution economy-wide, and can power the transition to electric passenger vehicles, school bus fleets, and buildings by providing low-cost renewable energy to consumers when utility rates are lowest. California is poised to lead the nation with floating offshore wind that should be part of our clean energy future. New investments in the right places will attract a new wave of manufacturing, assembly, operations, and maintenance jobs that can revitalize California’s port communities. These projects will require a highly-skilled, well-paid workforce to connect California and the west with a powerful new source of carbon-free electricity.

Catherine Reheis-Boyd - President of the Western States Petroleum Association

It starts by rejecting the unhelpful belief that we have to choose between the environment, public health and economic prosperity. That’s a false choice and pessimistic view of our future that is being pushed by those who advocate “banning” entire industries and hundreds of thousands of jobs out of our state’s economy. It would be more productive if we could ask ourselves, “where are our areas of agreement on balancing the environment, equality, energy and the economy?”

When we find common ground, we can talk to one another, not over each other; and bring innovation, diverse insights, real data, and that California “can do” spirit to planning for a future in which our people, planet, and prosperity can thrive together.

Michael Mantell - President of the Resources Legacy Fund

Build apartments in the city core and that link up to transportation networks, thin forests on the edge of rural communities, manufacture electric buses—a California law, budget priority, or regulation spurs each. And each action has the potential to create thousands of jobs while cleaning the air, safeguarding lives, or easing traffic congestion. It’s self-evident that California can create jobs while protecting its natural resources and de-carbonizing its economy. In July 2018, when California greenhouse gas emissions fell below 1990 levels, the Air Resources Board calculated that California produces twice as many goods and services for the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions as the rest of the nation.

Brent Hastey - President of the Association of California Water Agencies

A critical focus for the water industry is the health of our forests and the imminent danger of wildfire that could devastate our communities and cause immense damage to our watersheds.

There are few issues more vital that deserve more of California’s focus. The mega fires of recent years impact all of us. It’s not just a rural problem. Fire effects our water, air quality, energy prices, our economy, and more.

While we have a tremendous surplus of forest material placing us at such great risk, approximately 80 percent of our wood products are imported from outside of California. Investments in manufacturing and processing of forest material could create jobs, and bring life to a market that will encourage forest management. Using locally sourced products harvested from sustainable forests is good for the economy and the environment.

Additionally, investment in biomass, which turns forest trimmings and bio-waste into energy, and advancing forest management projects, such as ecologically-based thinning and controlled burns, we can reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire, protect our water resources, protect wildlife, avoid carbon emissions, and create rural jobs in the process.

With this emphasis, we can create jobs while benefiting the environment.

Kathryn Phillips - Director of Sierra Club California

Our goal needs to be to minimize environmental damage from the economic sector while providing family-supporting jobs. The best way to do that is to shift away from the most damaging economic activities and introduce or increase activities that produce less pollution and reduce our overall impact on the earth.

In California, that means substantially cutting oil and gas production and boosting production and jobs that support clean energy—from solar rooftop to wind and geothermal energy to energy efficiency to energy storage. It means continuing the trend toward clean vehicle manufacture. California is now home to about half a dozen zero-emission truck and bus manufacturers and assemblers and a major electric car manufacturer. It means making re-use and recycling of our old and broken products a local industry sector, not one we send abroad. It means more broadly transitioning California agriculture away from harmful pesticides and herbicides and incentivizing agricultural practices that use less water and target fertilizer to avoid water pollution. It means building and retrofitting homes to be more energy and water efficient, close to jobs and services, and not burdened by water-demanding landscaping.

Most importantly, it means making sure policy makers are motivating those companies that are benefiting from the shift to a cleaner economy to pay good, family-supporting wages and other essential benefits, like health insurance. We will never achieve the environmental goals climate change and public health demand if we continue to act as a society as though income disparity is acceptable.

Rob Stutzman - Founder and President of Stutzman Public Affairs

Creating jobs without “Damaging the environment” in the literal sense seems impossible. Even a professional conservationist must transport themselves and there is no such thing as truly emission free transportation, and if they use a bike path it paved over something’s habitat. The question really is, how will California maintain job creation while balancing a more absolutist dogma on environmental impact balanced against still being committed to what makes California, and the United States, a “first world” place to live and work. “First world” requires uninterrupted access to affordable energy and an infrastructure to support commerce. California has made the decision to place the future of California’s economy in the hands of regulatory bodies, like the California Air Resources Board, in order to meet somewhat arbitrary goals re: the future of energy and the environment. The objectives of those goals are laudable, but California either will show the world how to balance stretching for those goals without choking job retention and creation or we’ll become a global cautionary tale of overreach and imbalance. When looking at where energy prices are now and where they’re headed due to regulations, it’s difficult to imagine we won’t need to rein in costs to become more competitive for job growth.

Jim Newton - Editor in Chief of UCLA’s Blueprint magazine

In one sense, California already has solved the problem of creating jobs without damaging the environment. Since bottoming out along with the national recession in 2009-10, California’s job market has steadily grown — notwithstanding some of the nation’s strictest environmental regulations and most ambitious climate-change targets. Indeed, if there is a lesson worth emulating in California’s modern economy, it is that investing in clean energy and setting ambitious environmental targets are encouraging growth, not thwarting it.

Still, there are industries to be mindful of going forward. State and local governments should, for instance, encourage transit-oriented development in order to reduce dependence on cars, but that does not necessarily mean allowing developers unlimited access to inducements or relief from taxes and restrictions. And the oil and gas industry, while sure to be a smaller part of California’s future, is undeniably part of its present. Those industries — home construction and oil, to name just two — need to be encouraged to invest in areas that will grow as California responds to climate change and away from those areas that degrade the environment.

Change is dislocating and won’t always be easy, but California’s economy can grow and become cleaner at the same time.

V. John White - Co-founder and Executive Director of the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies

California’s plans to achieve deep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and expand its clean energy infrastructure will create huge opportunities to create and sustain new jobs. Modernizing the electric transmission and distribution grids, electrifying buildings and retrofitting homes and apartments to increase efficiency, and electrifying transportation with battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell buses and trucks will expand jobs and economic investment throughout California. But maintaining public support for these strategic investments will require workforce training, attention to equity, and ensuring economic benefits and jobs are widely shared across California’s diverse and economically disadvantaged communities.

Kevin de León - California State Senate President pro Tempore Emeritus

California has successfully demonstrated to the nation and global community that it is possible to achieve record-breaking economic growth while slashing emissions and setting some of the world’s toughest clean air and clean energy goals: 100% renewable and clean energy.

Our home state has created over 500,000 jobs in the clean energy space. Incredibly, that’s ten times more jobs in California’s clean energy space than there are coal mining jobs in all of America. By any objective measure, the naysayers who opposed our approach to securing a clean energy future have been proven wrong.

We are transforming a new economy that will grow the middle class and let our children breathe clean air. However, we cannot stop at a carbon-free economy. We must be bold and unequivocal in our fight to eliminate fossil fuels from the global energy paradigm.

Bernadette Del Chiaro - Executive Director of the California Solar and Storage Association

Studies show that renewable energy creates six times more jobs per unit of energy than fossil fuels. From manufacturing shops to rooftop installation workers, renewable energy, such as local solar and battery systems, support community-level jobs in almost every nook and cranny of California. With additional care to include disadvantaged communities, everyone can benefit.

How do we make sure this happens? The state legislature, Public Utilities Commission, Energy Commission, Contractors State Licensing Board and even cities and counties must faithfully and steadily value consistent policies that assist the businesses that are creating jobs and building our clean energy future.

While California has done a great job of jumpstarting renewables, the transition to a clean future has not been smooth or certain. Under pressure from utilities, California recently adopted changes to net metering policies that caused the rooftop solar industry to suffer a decline in sales and subsequent loss of 15,000 jobs over the past two years.

Setting ambitious long-term goals is important, but it’s not enough. We can create jobs and meet our long-term environmental goals more smoothly if we avoid the hiccups of stop-start policies and value continuity in the long path to cleaner air and a carbon-free future.

Bob Hertzberg - California State Senator (D-Van Nuys)

This is California! We have shown that it is possible to protect the environment while also enjoying economic growth. When we passed RPS in 2002, our gross product was $1.4 trillion – in 2017, we surpassed $2.7 trillion and became the world’s fifth largest economy, all while building a brand as the global leader on environmental sustainability.

To support the environment means to stop wasting resources. In a state that only recently came out of historic drought, that means construction jobs to help us recycle water and capture stormwater. In a state with aggressive climate change goals, that means building renewable energy and energy storage projects, retrofitting existing structures for weatherization and efficiency, and researching new paths toward sustainability. In a state that hangs in the balance each year from destruction due to natural disasters, it means retrofitting existing homes and businesses to be resilient to fires and earthquakes.

Ultimately, the underlying cause of climate change is human behavior. This is what most adversely impacts our environment and must change dramatically. If we teach sustainability at every level, from our youngest students to our eldest residents, we will change our collective disposition and engender a culture whose mindset leans towards sustainability.

Dave Puglia - Executive Vice President of the Western Growers Association

The question suggests an unrealistic absolutism. Californians today are demonstrating that technology and innovation can reduce or even eliminate the environmental consequences inherent in job-creating industries that produce goods, such as agriculture. California farmers produce more high-quality, nutritious foods than their counterparts in any other state, and they operate under the world’s strictest regulatory regime. We produce more food using less water, fertilizer and chemicals than ever before. That continuous progress has been enabled by rapid innovation and adaptation of new technologies. Several years ago my organization launched an AgTech incubator that now hosts more than 50 startup companies driving even greater innovations to improve environmental performance on our farms.

Innovation and technology are key to creating jobs that produce goods (healthy food, in this case) while protecting our natural resources. The threat to this progress lies in a California regulatory thicket that is so frustrating and expensive that farmers are increasingly establishing operations elsewhere, especially Mexico and Central and South America, in order to meet the price dictates of the major food retailers that buy our farm products. Policymakers here should resist adding to – and seek to lessen – the state’s uniquely difficult regulatory burden.

Lea Ann Tratten - Partner at TrattenPrice Consulting

The question is based on a false premise – that environmental policies are at odds with good jobs. The opposite is true.

Facts show that California policies encouraging clean energy drive innovation and job growth. Throughout the nation, 2018 saw the creation of more than 110,000 new green jobs, bringing the total number of Americans working in clean energy to 3.26 million people. Every region in every state saw growth.

California needs to continue to enact policies that stimulate innovation and ensure growth of good-paying jobs. Investment in infrastructure that continues to green our energy grid, avoids wildfires, cleans our water and creates more open space will create thousands of new jobs while cultivating an environment that is safe for all Californians. To foster that growth, we need to invest in education to produce a highly skilled, technically-trained workforce ready to fill these new jobs and provide a more seamless transition for workers making the switch to new industries.

Ultimately, governments have great reach in coordinating systemic changes that promote the creation of jobs in industries that are helping to reverse the trend of environmental degradation caused by centuries old technologies. The health of our planet depends on it.

Kristin Olson - First District Supervisor, Stanislaus County

Many important infrastructure projects in California, particularly in the water and energy space, can and will create jobs without damaging the environment. Most of these projects actually help the environment while creating jobs and growing the economy. Economic and environmental benefits of projects are in no way mutually exclusive.

Examples of water projects that have both economic and environmental benefits include storage facilities like Sites Reservoir. When more water is captured and stored, more water is available for both the environment (fisheries, healthy rivers, etc…) and for the economy (housing, farming, clothing manufacturing, etc…). Additionally, recycled water plants conserve natural resources through water reuse while creating new jobs to build and run the plants.

In the energy space, California has been a leader in creating jobs while improving the environment as we make great progress toward achieving our state’s ambitious clean energy goals. Solar and wind, biogas, pumped energy storage, renewable natural gas, and more innovative technologies create good-paying jobs and lower emissions to improve air quality and public health.

Tammy Tran - Senior Manager of Community Engagement at Southern California Edison

California is already doing it. Across the public and private sectors, our state has shown that we can reduce carbon emissions, create jobs for working families, and build a green economy. For example, the production of electric vehicles and electric buses in California have created thousands of good manufacturing jobs while helping us in cleaning up the air. In California, environmental protection is good business. There’s also massive jobs and economic opportunities in climate action and resiliency.

Where I believe we need to focus on is how these jobs and the economic benefits reach into disadvantaged and low-income communities. These are communities that are disproportionately affected by pollution and suffering from high concentrations of unemployment, low levels of homeownership, high rent burden, and low educational attainment. At Southern California Edison, we formed a Clean Energy Access Working Group in partnership with the Greenlining Institute. This collaboration between business, environmental and community groups, and faith-based organizations is to make sure no communities are left behind as we move toward a clean energy future. We also need to ensure policies and strategies promote inclusion and diversity in the workforce as well as equal access to business opportunities in the clean energy economy.

Rex Frazier - President of the Personal Insurance Federation of California

The California economy enables prosperity for many and is the envy of the world, but also yields the highest poverty rate in America, when adjusted for the cost of living – particularly due to high housing costs. Because California is a global leader, it is easy to assume we’re invulnerable. But, we’re not. Other states are finding a balance between environmental goals and economic development that lures away young workers and families with the promise of good jobs and a more affordable lifestyle. If we’re not careful, too many of our publicly-funded college graduates will start their careers elsewhere, and stay there.

While policymakers have bent environmental rules for a few major projects, broader agreement has been elusive. Given California’s commitment to environmental protection, proponents of updating environmental laws to promote growth (particularly new housing) bear a difficult burden. They must avoid the temptation of an over-reach that spoils goodwill and sends stakeholders back to their respective corners. If the only choices provided to Californians are a proposal that threatens the environment or no action at all, the latter option will prevail.

Karen Skelton - Founder and President of Skelton Strategies

The question of how to create jobs without damaging the environment assumes there is an either-or paradigm—either you create jobs and damage the environment, or you preserve nature and lose jobs. This question sets up false choices, between industrial manufacturers or polar bears, oil drills or clean air, infill development or affordable housing.

I confronted this economy v. environment question working in the Clinton-Gore White House. We rejected the “either or” dilemma and instead designed sustainable policies that balanced economic and environmental interests. For example, we supported expanding tourism along the shores of Lake Tahoe and keeping Tahoe Blue, funding new highways and defunding them when they busted air pollution caps.

What is critical to growing sustainable markets these days—when the earth’s existence is threatened by climate change—is to develop public private partnerships that leverage government spending with private capital and ingenuity. And that is exactly what California is doing. According to Forbes, California’s climate policy leadership has raised upwards of $22B in venture capital funding over the last 10 years—more than any other state or country (besides the US as a whole and China). According to Forbes, these funds are now being used to support 500,000 jobs at California-based clean tech companies like Proterra (electric buses), Charge Point (EV charging), SunPower and SunRun (solar), Bloom Energy (independent energy boxes) and Picarro (pollution detection). The NRDC notes “California has reduced its carbon emissions more than 11 percent since the 2006 passage of Assembly Bill 32 — outpacing the United States as a whole — while also growing state economic output nearly 16 percent.”

California’s ability to increase jobs and also reduce carbon emissions that threaten the planet is possible because the state leverages private investment with government programs like SGIP, Low Carbon Fuel Standard, and micro grid development that leverage private investment in innovation.

Public-Private partnerships, bold entrepreneurs, pioneering ideas — these are the ingredients of California’s innovation economy that will continue to grow jobs and protect the planet.

Ben Allen - California State Senator (D-Santa Monica)

For our work here to make a difference we have to show the rest of the world that we can grow economically while protecting our environment. That’s the only way we’ll get others to adopt our policies. And here in California, we’ve shown that a green economy can be a strong economy: California has simultaneously protected our environment while increasing jobs. In fact, over the past 7 years, we have added 2.7 million jobs and witnessed a 2.9 % growth in GDP, all while implementing some of the most stringent environmental regulations in the country. To some extent, our economy has grown because of our tough stand on protecting the environment. Back in the 1970s, kids in LA were growing up with half of the lung capacity of kids in rural parts of the country because of how terrible our smog was. We put in place some of the most stringent air quality rules ever implemented and dramatically cleaned up the air. Environmentalists were told that the regulations would stymie growth but instead LA’s population and economy have continued to grow apace. Indeed, many of the most forward-thinking entrepreneurs want to be here because of our progressive attitude and policies toward the environment and the physical and mental health benefits they bring.

Success in striking a good balance between economics and environmental protection comes down to putting in a bit more time and energy to design creative policies that are a win-win. In the wake of China’s National Sword policy that has blocked the import of American recyclable waste, I introduced the California Circular Economy and Plastic Pollution Reduction Act this year to address the plastic waste choking our waterways and bankrupting our local governments, haulers and recyclers. Instead of working on some form of a plastics ban that others have proposed, we are working with stakeholders across the value chain to create a suite of tools that will build the state’s recycling market and make it easier for innovative companies to enter the marketplace with new types of sustainable products. By harnessing this collective action, we can create regulatory certainty that works for everyone: people, the planet and profits. And as environmental problems become increasingly dire around the world, more and more countries will turn to California businesses to show the way through technologies—from modes of transportation to packaging—that can improve our quality of life in a more environmentally sustainable way.

Dan Schnur, a veteran analyst and longtime participant in California politics, is director of the California Influencers series for McClatchy.
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