Climate policy must work for all Californians

Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature have made clear their commitment to combating global climate change. But in his inaugural address earlier this year, the governor wisely observed that “how we achieve these goals and at what pace will take great thought and imagination mixed with pragmatic caution. It will require enormous innovation, research and investment. And we will need active collaboration at every stage with our scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, businesses and officials at all levels.”

We applaud the governor’s approach, and emphatically urge lawmakers to avoid setting climate change goals and costs that fall disproportionately on the backs of the poor, working middle-class and communities of color.

California leads the world in innovation while leading the nation in poverty. According to the Census Bureau, California’s poverty rate, the nation highest, averaged 23.4 percent from 2011-13. Especially troubling are poverty levels among California’s communities of color. According to economist Joel Kotkin, the poverty rate for Latinos is 33.7 percent and for African Americans 30 percent.

Employment is key to remedying this issue. Goods movement, energy, manufacturing and construction provide good-paying blue-collar jobs, and collectively employed 20.5 percent of Californians in 2014, according to the California Employment Development Department. However, because of their emissions, these industries are also among those most affected by climate policies. Losing them and the jobs they create would simply add to the challenges already facing too many Californians.

We also see the impacts of California’s climate policy in the form of energy costs that are among the highest in the nation. This past July, gasoline prices in California were 96.1 cents per gallon above the national average. Industrial electricity rates are 59 percent above the national average.

Addressing our high energy costs, a recent report from the Manhattan Institute found that climate policies are, in effect, a “regressive energy tax, imposing proportionally higher costs in certain counties, such as California’s inland and Central Valley regions, where summer electricity consumption is highest, but household incomes are lowest.”

If the Legislature is to make California a global leader on climate change, lawmakers must choose ways that avoid placing economic hardship on our citizens. If they fail in this regard, they will lose public support.

A new survey by the California Business Roundtable found that 62 percent of registered voters are unwilling to pay more for gas, electricity and consumer goods in exchange for tougher climate policies, and 61 percent oppose such policies if it means that thousands of Californians could lose their jobs. The survey also found that, by a wide margin, voters want the Legislature (57 percent), not bureaucrats (15 percent), to be responsible for approving global warming regulations.

Today, bills in the Legislature would establish even more aggressive climate goals for California. We urge the Legislature to:

▪ Apply economic rigor to ensure that the true costs and benefits are clearly known and that job-loss impacts are accounted for.

▪ Apply operational rigor to ensure that employers charged with compliance with such policies – ranging from large utilities to small businesses – have been heard and enabled to comply without losing business to less burdened, out-of-state competitors.

▪ Expressly retain the Legislature’s responsibility for the results of its goal-setting so that the crafting of critical state regulations is not delegated to the state air resources board or other unelected state regulators.

▪ Require ongoing legislative review of the implementation of climate goals and their economic impact upon working families.

Only through this approach can we make good our commitment to the environmental and economic health of our state for generations to come, and assure that the ladder of economic opportunity remains available for all Californians to climb.

Pete Wilson is a former governor of California. Stephen B. Williams is a co-founder of SENTRE, a real estate investment and services firm. Wilson and Williams are the 2015 co-chairs of the Southern California Leadership Council, a nonpartisan, nonprofit public policy partnership.