Green is good in a blue state

Change one letter in Gordon Gecko’s infamous credo and it becomes the mantra of Democratic policymakers from President Obama to Gov. Jerry Brown and the majorities of the state Senate and Assembly:

Green is good.

In their eyes, it’s very, very good.

Perhaps too good.

They say:

Greater energy efficiency, expanded recycling, cleaner manufacturing, more renewable energy will foster new categories of jobs that will drive California’s economy into broad sweeping uplands – green, naturally – of prosperity and sustainability.

“This is our Sputnik moment,” Obama said in his Jan. 25 State of the Union speech, before calling for a stronger commitment to research and development and higher investment in “biomedical research, information technology, and especially clean energy technology – an investment that will strengthen our security, protect our planet, and create countless new jobs for our people.”

Democratic leaders of the state Senate and Assembly introduced a package of bills yesterday that they say will create jobs through greater investment in all that is green.
The four bills would require 33 percent of state energy to come from renewable sources, offer loan guarantees for households and small businesses to improve energy efficiency, streamline siting for renewable energy projects and provide career technical education that would create 90 “green partnerships” to better prepare students for success in emerging markets.

“Green manufacturing has the potential to create millions of jobs in the coming decades,” said Assembly Speaker John Perez, a Los Angeles Democrat, adding that if those jobs are going to be created they should be created in California.

In Brown’s final debate during the campaign with GOP rival Meg Whitman, he touted his plan to expand renewable energy use and create 500,000 “green” jobs, noting that such jobs are the fastest growing segment of the state’s economy.  Given the growth rate of the state economy over the past few years, it’s hard not to grow faster.

Whitman told Brown that she was interested in the other “97 percent of the jobs in the economy and not just the 3 percent green jobs.”

She has a point.

Nearly 433,000 persons perform some type of green work, as amorphously defined, according to a survey of nearly 15,200 public and private employers published in October 2010 by the state Employment Development Department. The survey was sent to more than 51,100 employers.

Of the 433,000 employees, a little over 263,000 spend more than half their time creating green products or delivering green services. The remaining 170,000 spend at least part of their time on green work.

Predictably, the largest number of green jobs are in the state’s most populated areas. San Francisco and Los Angeles account for almost 70 percent of the total, the survey says.
That 433,000 translates into about 3.4 percent of the state workforce.

In its January 2011 study, Many Shades of Green, Next 10, a San Francisco-based non-profit, says there are 174,000 jobs in the “core” green economy, up from 169,000 in 2008. At a year-over-year growth rate of 3 percent, that’s triple that of the state economy as a whole, Next 10 says.

Next 10 defines this “core” economy as businesses that provide products and services that reduce pollution and waste, offer alternatives to fossil fuels and conserve natural resources.

 From the study, this “core” appears to be largely distinct but with some overlap to larger universe surveyed by the EDD. 

While there seems to be general agreement that green is good, there continues to be a tussle over what exactly green is.

The EDD notes that it reviewed more than 130 studies with varying definitions of green.

“They’re jobs involved in the production, distribution or delivery of products or services that pollute less, make less waste, use less fossil fuels, clean our air or water or use more efficiently our energy and natural resources,” is the definition used by Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, the Berkeley Democrat who used to chair the lower house’s natural resources committee.

That’s a wide net – almost as wide as the definition established by the state under former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Like a number of things in that administration, a premium was placed on form so the definition uses the letters in the word “green.”

Generate and store renewable energy. Recycle existing materials. Expand energy efficiency. Educate that green is good. Nurture – they must have struggled for a word beginning with “N” – creation and use of sustainable products and strategies.

That encompasses a whole lot of things, as Appendix C of the department’s survey shows.

The largest category is green carpenters. The appendix says there are 46,145 of them compared to just 834 wind turbine technicians. There are 40,353 green assemblers compared to 3,582 solar photovoltaic panel installers and technicians.

There are 43,114 farmers and farm workers engaged in sustainable growing practices and 24,746 green engineers compared to 5,860 energy auditors and 2,435 battery engineers.
All of which suggests that, at least in the near term, the biggest growth areas in green jobs seem to be in traditional industries changing their practices.

Echoing that view is Senate GOP Leader Bob Dutton of Rancho Cucamonga. In response to the release of the latest Next 10 report, Dutton said:

“Job creation efforts must be color blind. This latest report provides clear proof that California can’t rely on just one sector of the economy to create jobs.

“It’s great news that the green job sector added 5,000 new jobs last year, according to the report, but that’s simply not enough. At the rate of 5,000 new jobs per year, it will take more than 400 years to create enough green jobs for the more than 2 million unemployed Californians.

“I don’t care if they are pink, purple, blue or green. We need to help the small-business community create a lot more jobs. That’s the only way to get California out of this fiscal crisis.”
In the June 2010 The Truth About Green Jobs and California by the California Lutheran University Center for Economics Research and Forecasting, the authors dismiss Next 10’s December 2009 study as a “32-page marketing piece, not a study that should be relied upon for serious policy deliberations.”

Shockingly, Doug Henton, one of the Next 10 study writers, took some offense. He counters that his study is “based on real numbers” and “every single data point is verified.”

The authors of the California Lutheran study, whose work was commissioned by the California Manufacturing and Technology Association, use the adjective “devastating” to describe the Legislative Analyst’s assessment of the Air Resources Board’s AB 32 Scoping Plan. That seems a bit outside the usual dispassionate discourse of academia.

Nevertheless, their view, like Dutton’s, is that the best way to create more green jobs is to grow the economy as a whole so there are more industries that can “go green.”

What seems most apparent, particularly from the EDD study, is that even without a lot of government goading, businesses get that green is good.

Some 63 percent of businesses in California use a type of green practice, whether or not they produce something green.

Businesses see the benefit of recycling, improving energy effi
ciency and championing sustainable practices both because it’s popular with a growing number of consumers and, more significantly, it reduces their bottom line.

A bit more truth-in-advertising about the green motives of businesses would be welcome, however.

Dump those pious “Help Us Save Our Planet” signs in hotel rooms and tell the truth:

“Re-use that damp towel. Sleep on those sweaty sheets and help us profit more handsomely.”

No doubt so that more green jobs can be created.

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