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Residents protest “Dirty Energy Proposition”

on April 22, 2010

On Thursday, more than fifty people celebrated the 40th anniversary of Earth Day by protesting the so-called “Dirty Energy Proposition,” or the signature-gathering effort in support of a ballot measure that will delay implementation of AB 32, California’s clean energy and air law.

“Green Jobs! Clean Air! Texas oil, don’t you dare!” shouted AB 32 proponents who gathered in front of a Valero gas station in uptown Oakland, demanding that Texas-based Valero and other oil companies drop their support of the proposed initiative.

In 2006, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed AB 32 into law. The legislation was designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote new environmentally-friendly technologies.  It requires the state to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by the year 2020.

Oil companies and business organizations, however, are trying to repeal that legislation.  They are supporting signature gathering for a ballot measure that aims to delay the implementation of the law until California’s unemployment figures are reduced by half.  Valero Services Inc., Tesoro Companies and World Oil Corp., all major oil companies in Texas, have already contributed nearly $1 million in total to the signature-gathering process.  The sponsor of the ballot has until July 5 to collect the 433,971 signatures needed to qualify the measure for the November vote.

“A lot of people I talked to didn’t know about this Dirty Energy Proposition.  That is why we are doing this on Earth Day,” said Ian Kim, the director of the Green Collar Jobs Campaign at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, which organized the protest.

Both proponents and opponents of AB 32 cite economic impacts of the legislation and refer to economic studies, but their numbers contradict each other.  Proponents of AB 32 argue that the legislation will create jobs in the clean technology industry.  According to a report called “Many Shades of Green: Diversity and Distribution of California’s Green Jobs” by the nonpartisan group Next 10 and Collaborative Economics, the Bay Area’s green job sector has grown by 51 percent since 1995. While many Bay Area start-ups suffered a funding drought in 2009, the clean technology industry attracted venture capital money. California’s clean technology sector received $2.1 billion in investment capital in 2009, according to the CleanTech Group, a company providing investors with information about clean technologies.

“Energy Prices and California’s Economic Security,” a study published in October, 2009, by David Roland-Hoist, a professor in the economics department at UC Berkeley, found that dependence on fossil fuels will increase household electricity prices by 33 percent. The study concluded that this will slow California’s economy by more than $80 billion and cost the state over a half million jobs by 2020.

However, AB 32’s opponents question those figures. On its website, the group No New Taxes says that AB 32 is ineffective and counterproductive.  According to the group, AB 32 would cost California up to 1.1 million jobs, and cost the average family $3,857 a year in greatly increased expenses for housing, transportation, food and energy.

This group cites professors at Sacramento State University who estimated that housing costs will rise by $2,048 for the average family  due to regulations requiring home builders to use more expensive building methods and the mandatory retrofitting of existing homes.  Additionally, the researchers estimated that families will pay $756 more for transportation, $35 more for natural gas, $124 more for electricity and $895 more for food. The study also estimated that new industrial regulations, including a cap and trade system for carbon emissions, will cause small businesses to lose  $49,691 on average, leading to job losses.

Last month, the state Air Resources Board revised its earlier estimate that AB 32 would add 120,000 jobs to the economy by the year 2020, and said it would have no net effect on California’s projected job growth over the next 10 years.

Air pollution is a major threat to public health in California. It causes asthma and lung diseases especially among children. It disproportionately affects communities of African Americans and people of color because they tend to live closer to facilities that emit greenhouse gasses. A recent study by the University of Southern California Program for Environment and Regional Equity shows that people of color are exposed to over 70 percent more particulate matter emissions than non-Hispanic whites. In 2998, a plan published by the California Air Resources Board estimated that 780 premature deaths and almost 12,000 incidences of asthma and lower respiratory symptoms statewide will be avoided thanks to AB 32 by the year 202o.

Concern about public health is one of the reasons why local activists are fighting to keep AB 32 on the books. At the Valero station facing the busy morning traffic on West Grand Avenue, activists urged drivers to boycott the oil company. “Valero is not even based in California. They just think about their profits, not our health,” said Laura Harnish, a regional director for the Environmental Defense Fund.

Protester Sarah Callahan, who was holding her 5-year-old son, Jack, agreed. “Green business should be the driving force in this recession,” said the member of the Courage Campaign, an online organizing network for progressive grassroots activists. “What the oil companies are trying to do is outrageous. It is not about economy, it is about the future of my son.”

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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