Clean energy crucial for California

Windmills at sunset in the California desert. (Photo: Angie Agostino)

Look around lately and it’s hard to ignore evidence of chaos fueled by our changing climate.

From the barrage of hurricanes in the Atlantic to the raging wildfires and heat waves throughout the West, climate change is here already and it refuses to be ignored. In the last week, everyone from Miami’s Republican mayor to Pope Francis has affirmed the need for swift action.

Clean economy jobs rose by 18 percent in 2015, six times as fast as job growth overall in California.

It’s painfully clear we can’t count on the Trump administration. That’s why an intrepid majority of California lawmakers needs to claim the mantle this week by passing SB 100, which would set the state on a path toward 100 percent clean energy by 2045.

To actually reach 100 percent clean energy, first we need to find common ground. We need to bridge California’s rural-urban differences and address the often-wide divide between business interests and the concerns of social justice activists. Together, we’re proof that’s not as hard as it sounds.

One of us represents rural businesses at the Sierra Business Council, and the other is based in the LA-Bakersfield area and speaks up for environmental justice on the state’s Air Resources Board.

And from Fresno to Tahoe, no corner of this state is untouched by air pollution and climate change. Fossil fuels represent the economy of yesterday, and with SB 100 we have a golden opportunity to push forward, innovate, and leave them in the dust.

No state is better equipped to take on this audacious challenge of a 100 percent clean energy economy. California’s clean energy juggernaut rivals that of entire countries, with half a million jobs statewide. One of every six advanced energy workers nationwide is based in California, in part because our state has dutifully created a cutting-edge suite of policies, cultivating a climate that attracted these innovators and the good jobs they bring.

The meteoric rise of clean energy jobs has wowed economists and politicians alike: clean economy jobs rose by 18 percent in 2015, six times as fast as job growth overall in California. Forecasts predict another eight percent increase this year.

Behind these statistics are actual Californians whose lives are measurably improving. 

Visionaries in the Central Valley are trying to generate clean fuels using everything from sugar beets to medical waste to vineyard trimmings. Workers are building zero-emission electric buses in the western Mojave Desert. In Richmond, job trainees are installing solar panels on rooftops in affordable apartment communities.

Yet for too long, we’ve accepted a reality where pockets of pollution trouble some of the state’s most marginalized neighborhoods. Entire communities grapple not just with deeply entrenched poverty but with elevated rates of asthma, cancer, and heart disease, and they fear California’s clean energy revolution could leave them behind.

With SB 100, they’ll know better days are ahead as zero-emission facilities replace dirty power plants. Fewer people will call in sick to work or school or rush to the ER with heart attacks or asthma attacks. Kids will start playing outside again because the air is safe for them to breathe.

If we do this right, the business and jobs landscape will evolve too. Our businesses will be able to compete and even nurture new industries in agriculture, forestry, and natural lands in places like Huron and Truckee. Linkages with workforce development programs will lift families out of poverty.

Climate change compels us to act. With SB 100, we can continue to transform California’s economy in a way that helps hard-to-reach urban and rural communities alike, and in places where job creation has typically lagged.

Business groups and equity advocates don’t always see eye-to-eye, but this is too important to stay silent. Because achieving ambitious goals is what makes California tick — yes on SB 100.

Ed’s Note: Dean Florez, representing environmental justice issues, is a member of the California Air Resources Board. He served 12 years in the Legislature and lives in the Los Angeles/Bakersfield area. Steve Frisch is president of the Sierra Business Council and lives in Truckee.

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