Jobs and sustainable future threatened by California’s Prop. 23

Whichever way California’s Proposition 23 goes in the November elections so could go green jobs, government and private investment in clean technology, and a sustainable economy, opponents of the proposition warn.

Because of California’s economic prominence and its recognition as a national leader in green technology investment and job creation, the proposition’s opponents fear it could well discourage federal and state governments, and private business, from investing in economically sustainable development nationally.

Prop 23 would suspend California’s environmental protection laws, particularly AB32, until the state’s unemployment rate is reduced to 5 percent in a year’s timee.

California’s current official jobless rate is among the highest in the nation, at 12.4 percent. Only three times in the last 40 years has the state’s unemployment reached the 5 percent mark.

If the opposing sides agree on anything, it is that the proposition will have national ramifications whether California voters approve or reject it.

Gene Karpinski, national president of the League of Conservation Voters who is now campaigning in California against the proposition, called the initiative “by far the single most important ballot measure to date testing public support for continuing to move to a clean energy economy.”

On the opposite side, Katie Stavinoha, spokesperson for the Kock Industries petroleum subsidiary Flint Hills Resources, told the New York Times that if the proposition fails and the state’s environmental laws are upheld, “It sets a bad precedent for other state and federal governments to do the same thing.”

But Vinod Khosla, founder and partner of California-based Khosla Ventures, warned, “If there is not a clean-tech market in California, you will see people look to India and China, where there are markets.” Khosla Ventures raised more than $1 billion last year for investment funds targeted to the clean energy industry.

The nonpartisan State Legislative Analyst buttressed this estimate when it concluded that suspension of AB32 could “dampen additional investments in clean energy technologies or in so-called green jobs” by private firms, thus making an already bad economic situation worse.

The proposition’s supporters claim that AB32 is a job killer in an already precarious economic climate. But, the facts show differently, according to Californians to Stop the Dirty Energy Proposition (SDEP).

SDEP argues that Prop 23 would curtail the rate at which green employment grows as well as threaten existing green jobs, adversely affecting the struggle for economic recovery.

The group points out that California green jobs have grown 10 times faster than the statewide average since 2005.

Clean technology and green jobs firms employ half a million workers, according to a new report by the California Employment Development Department.

Between 1995 and 2008 green businesses have increased 45 percent and green jobs grew by 36 percent when total jobs in the state expanded by only 13 percent, SDEP reports.

The state’s clean technology sector accounted for 60 percent of the total in North America investment between 2005 and 2009, more than five times that of Massachusetts, which came second.

During that same period California’s clean technology sector received $9 billion cumulative venture capital investment, including $2.1 billion investment capital in 2009.

As a direct result of AB32, the state is currently bidding for federal stimulus dollars for projects amounting to $30 billion from public and private investment, which would result in tens of thousands of new jobs, according to SDEP.

Supporters of Prop 23 seeking to repeal California’s clean energy and air law, AB32, paint a picture of job and economic devastation if the initiative fails to pass, citing studies by a Sacramento professor.

However, the Legislative Analyst recently evaluated these studies and concluded, “Our review of this study indicates that it contains a number of serious shortcomings that render its estimates of the annual economic costs of state regulations essentially useless.”

Meanwhile the battle lines are being drawn between several giant oil companies and a diverse alliance of forces, including the environmental movement, venture capitalists, green tech firms, the California Labor Federation and its affiliates, several public utilities, health professionals, and the scientific community.

Earlier this month oil multi-billionaires David and Charles Kock, who played major roles in financing the Tea Party movement, jumped into the fray in favor of Prop 23 contributing $1 billion and promising more if needed.

So far the Prop 23 campaign has received more than $8 million, 97 percent of which comes from oil companies which include oil giants Valero Energy and Tesoro of Texas as well as Koch Industries. .

Opponents of the proposition, which include firms involved in the generation of energy from renewable sources such as the sun, the wind, algae and fuel cells, have raised $5.56 million largely from environmental groups and investors.

While the oil companies have already pledged additional millions for a television blitz in the nation’s most expensive media market, the anti-Prop 23 forces can also count on the support of the labor movement, environmentalists and other progressive social movements that since Labor Day have deployed thousands of volunteers.

Polling prior to Labor Day indicates that voters who know about the measure are evenly split, according to the New York Times.

“We certainly are expecting to have a fight on our hands,” said Annie Notthoff, the California advocacy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group.