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How Prop 23 could affect jobs

Climate change headline

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Kai Ryssdal: Whether it's actually true or not, it sure seems like everything in the public discourse today is about jobs. Tax policy? Jobs. Currency exchange rates? Jobs. Climate change? Also jobs.

California passed a landmark climate change law four years ago. Back then the unemployment rate here was under 5 percent. Today it's over 12.

Which gets us to the fight over Proposition 23 on California's November ballot. Prop 23 would put the climate change law on ice until unemployment drops back to around 5 percent.

From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, Eve Troeh reports.


Eve Troeh: A Yes on Prop 23 would postpone California's climate change law indefinitely. Supporters say that would protect companies from steep fines on carbon emissions that contribute to global warming; fines that could force companies to close or move.

Yes on 23 ad: Save jobs. Stop the energy tax. Yes on 23.

And a No on 23 means the climate change law goes forward -- a law supporters say "creates new, green jobs." If 23 passes, they see disaster.

No on 23 ad: 23 would pollute our air, kill clean energy jobs and keep us addicted to costly oil. Vote no on 23.

So since when is the California climate change law only about jobs? Since oil refiners defined the debate that way with their ballot measure.

Bill Day: Don't create green jobs at the expense of already existing manufacturing jobs in the state.

That's Bill Day. He's a spokesman for Valero, a Texas company that refines oil in California. The company helped get Proposition 23 on the ballot and it's spent $4 million to support it. Other oil refiners have spent millions too.

Who's funding the other side? Silicon Valley -- venture capitalists who see the economy moving away from fossil fuels.

Alan Salzman: Where do you think the jobs of the 21st century are going to be?

Alan Salzman is CEO of VantagePoint Venture Partners. He's heavily invested in clean tech like solar power and LED lighting. He says it's short-sighted to stall on building the 21st century economy in order to help oil-dependent business.

Salzman: If you go back to New York City, 1900 to 1910, was it a time to invest in blacksmiths? And stables? The next two or three decades of rapid growth are in the clean tech fields.

He says California is a test case for whether the United States can build its own clean tech market. And investors around the world are watching.

Kevin Parker: Banks, insurance companies, the private investment force that is out there waiting to finance a move to a low carbon economy.

That's Kevin Parker, head of asset management at Deutsche Bank. He says Calfornia's climate change law has already lured billions of investment dollars into wind, solar, and energy efficiency projects. But if Proposition 23 passes, Parker says:

Parker: We have plenty of other places to go with our capital where the regulators and national governments are welcoming private investment.

Parker says the money will go to countries like Germany and China that have committed to building and selling green technologies.

This isn't lost on Kelly Budding. She protested against Proposition 23 outside a Valero gas station in downtown Los Angeles. She wants green jobs here.

Budding: The global greenhouse--[car honking]--See people support, as they drive by in their cars, running on oil.

It's true we still live and work in a fossil fuel economy. And oil refiners like Valero are hurting, because the recession's lowered retail demand for gas. Valero closed a refinery and lost $2 billion last year.

Valero's Bill Day says punishing oil refiners right now only punishes consumers, who still drive regular cars.

Day: We get around by using gasoline and diesel fuel. That's how this country transports itself. That's how California transports itself.

But there are many Californians eager to transport themselves into a clean energy world, and the new jobs that go with it. The latest polls suggest voters will strike down Proposition 23, and California's climate change law will move forward.

In Los Angeles, I'm Eve Troeh for Marketplace.

About the author

Eve Troeh is News Director at WWNO-FM in New Orleans, La., helping build the first public radio news department in the station’s 40-year history. She reported for the Marketplace Sustainability Desk from 2010 to 2013.

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