Sep 10, 2010 1:00 PM  PDT

Green Building’s Most Critical Election

Wendel Rosen Black & Dean
This November’s California state election presents the most critical moment so far for the green building movement and climate policy, and the implications could be global.  Voters will decide whether California will retreat from its landmark Climate Change law, AB 32.  Signed into law in 2006 by Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, AB 32 commits the state to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020.  Placed on the ballot by two Texas oil companies and out of state coal interests, Proposition 23 would suspend AB 32 indefinitely.  Regardless of Prop 23, Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman has pledged she will do the same on her first day in office if she is elected governor.1  
(Read more about the campaign to stop Prop 23)

Whitman and the sponsors of Prop 23 claim that AB 32 will harm California’s economy, notwithstanding the fact that AB 32 has made California the hub of clean tech investment.  Despite the Great Recession, between AB 32’s adoption in 2006 and 2009, California clean tech companies attracted more than $8.6 billion in venture capital investment, representing 70% of the national total.  For comparison, in 2005, the year before AB 32, California clean tech investment was less than $0.5 billion.  AB 32 is considered essential for bringing green building and clean tech to scale because it will drive demand for the low carbon solutions they provide by making conventional technologies reflect the true cost of their Climate Change impacts.  Investors know this, and that is why they have made clean tech the fastest growing sector of the economy in terms of both investment and job creation.  

Retreating from AB 32 would destroy this lone bright spot in the California economy by reversing the state’s long-term policy commitment that investors relied upon in betting on the growth of the green economy.  As the Vice President of Fremont solar panel manufacturer Solaria told the Sacramento Bee, rolling back AB 32 would “pull the rug out from underneath [us because it is] the glue that holds everything together.”2   This concern was recently validated by Deutsche Bank’s announcement that it will now invest its $7 billion Climate Change fund in companies outside the U.S.  Against the backdrop of Prop 23 and Whitman’s campaign pledge, the bank responded to the Senate’s recent refusal to move forward this year with federal climate change legislation by announcing that it will divert clean tech investments to companies in countries committed to climate action.3 

The impacts of retreating on AB 32 would be far reaching.  There is a reason why more than 90% of the funding for Prop 23 has come from outside California.  As the President of the National Petrochemical Association explained in a recent LA Times article discussing a Kansas oil company’s recent $1 million contribution to Prop 23, “What happens in California doesn't stay in California.”4    As every environmental lawyer knows, California is the nation’s trend-setter for environmental policy.  Only after AB 32 was passed did other states and the federal government begin advancing similar climate legislation.  If California reverses course, the political will to pass national climate legislation in Congress will evaporate, especially given Republican opposition and the party’s likelihood of capturing the House or Senate in November.  China and India regard U.S. action as a prerequisite to limiting their own greenhouse gas emissions.  The Kyoto Protocol international climate treaty expires in 2012.  Efforts to negotiate a successor treaty collapsed last December because these three nations – responsible for half of global emissions - still refuse to participate.  It is questionable whether the rest of the world will continue voluntarily limiting their emissions while we refuse.

Beyond suspending AB 32, Whitman has not mentioned green building in her campaign, except for statements that she would abolish the state agency that created and administers the nation’s first and only green building code, CALGreen.  Her 34-page jobs plan does not mention green jobs or clean energy.

The other candidate for California governor is Jerry Brown, a familiar face to the green building industry.  As governor in the 1970s, he created the world’s first energy efficiency standards for buildings (Title 24) and appliances.  As Mayor of Oakland, he promoted green building and convened the first discussions on green building finance.  Shortly after taking office as California’s Attorney General in 2007, Brown met with California green building leaders to explore how his office could promote green building.  As Attorney General, he has championed green building as a primary Climate Change mitigation measure.  This summer, he filed a lawsuit to stop the federal government from blocking PACE financing that local governments around the nation are using to finance private sector green building retrofits.

Much is at stake in this California election.  It is for this reason that Build It Green’s board of directors unanimously passed a resolution opposing Prop 23.5   In a mid-term election, voter turnout often determines outcomes.  Now, more than ever before, it is critical for sustainability advocates to vote and spread the word.  We Californians have proudly led the nation’s advancement toward sustainability.  If we do not boldly rise to this occasion, we will lead its retreat and the global ramifications that follow.

Donald Simon is a partner at the Oakland law firm of Wendel Rosen Black & Dean.  He is the co-founder of Build It Green and the U.S. Green Building Council’s Northern California Chapter and host of the annual green innovation conference and trade show, West Coast Green.  Those wishing to engage on these important issues are invited to contact Mr. Simon by e-mail at
1. AB 32 provides the governor this authority.  See Health & Safety Code § 38598.
2. Sacramento Bee, May 2, 2010, Section E, p. 1.
5. As a 501(c)(3), Build It Green is prohibited from endorsing any candidate for elected office.  All discussion of political candidates is offered exclusively for educational purposes.  No endorsement of any political candidate is intended and none is made.

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