The coalition to defeat Prop. 23 argues that addressing global warming creates jobs and saves the environment
But the moderator of the panel, a business reporter, wasn't as interested in the moral rationale — instead, she followed up by asking whether going green was a wise financial move. Anthony Tsai, green business program manager at Urban Solutions, made the case that it is. Water bills have gone up 40 percent since 2000, Tsai said. Electricity costs have gone up 60 percent and waste disposal fees have increased 250 percent. By conserving energy and water and reducing waste, small businesses can save money during tough economic times.
Aguilar sees energy-efficiency building retrofits as an opportunity to create jobs for disadvantaged populations. In order to comply with the climate regulations under AB32, energy-efficiency retrofits would have to be completed to hit conservation targets. "We have thousands, if not millions, of buildings in California that need to be retrofitted," he said. "A lot of people who are out of work are in the construction industry. Latinos and African Americans were hit hard when construction fell." With energy retrofits and solar-panel installations on the agenda, AB32 could be good news for electricians, too, Aguilar said.
There are signs that AB32 is already giving green business a lift. A manufacturer of electric delivery trucks, for example, relocated from Mexico to California's Central Valley late last year. A wind-energy company recently relocated to San Diego from Spain. The solar industry is growing faster in California, particularly in the Bay Area, than anywhere else nationwide. And in the past five years, roughly $9 billion in venture capital investment has gone into clean tech industries, with more going to California than any other state.
"Prop. 23 would essentially pull the rug out from under this explosive growth, which we're experiencing during a recession," Maviglio noted.
Jeanine Cotter, CEO of Luminalt, an independently owned San Francisco solar and installation company, is active in the campaign to defeat Prop. 23. "There is an entire ecosystem that feeds off of good policy," Cotter said. If Prop. 23 passes, "we will lose the spark that we have and we will go backward."
Despite the economic downturn, Luminalt experienced its best year in 2009 in the six-year history of the company, and if AB32 goes into effect in 2012 as planned, the demand for new solar installations will only grow. But with less than a month to go before the election, Cotter said she was alarmed by the lack of awareness about Prop. 23, even among environmentalists.
"We were at West Coast Green with No on 23 literature," she said, referencing a widely attended green-business conference, "and I was shocked at how many people didn't know what it is."
Small business owners and conscience-driven activists aren't the only ones touting this theory of a new energy economy. The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, a fiscally conservative business association that is often at odds with environmentalists and progressives, is actively campaigning against Prop. 23 — and it's not out of any sense of moral duty.
If Prop. 23 succeeds, explained Chamber spokesperson Rob Black, it will scare off the venture capitalists. "For them, water's like money," he explained. "It will flow to the easiest place to invest." Regulation like AB32 guarantees a return on investment for climate-friendly technology, he added. But if that regulatory structure is thrown into question, investors may flee overseas because investing would be too risky. "If we walk away from clean tech, the next Microsoft will be a Chinese company," Black said.
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