Influencers Opinion

Building projects that promote sustainability are constructive, indeed

California’s environmental policies have helped our economy thrive. These policies generate sustainable and environmentally responsible development, good-paying jobs and economic growth.

As legislative and political director of the State Building and Construction Trades Council, a federation of unions representing nearly 400,000 construction workers, we meet with many business groups or candidates for office who incorrectly assume that because our members depend on construction projects to make a living, we oppose strong environmental policies.

While it is true that for the past century, building trades members have built coal, natural gas, hydroelectric and cogeneration power plants, we also live and work in the communities where these projects are built. We have played a leadership role supporting public health and environmental laws, including the California Environmental Quality Act, the Global Warming Solutions Act and last year’s historic cap-and-trade agreement.

Today, California workers are building renewable energy power plants – solar, wind, geothermal and biomass – as part of the Renewable Portfolio Standard. The standard, a central component of our state’s environmental policy, requires utilities to procure half of their energy portfolio from renewable sources.

The implementation of the renewable standard has been a resounding success. In addition to the environmental benefits, the program has generated tens of thousands of job opportunities for men and women in some of California’s most impoverished regions. Unions of electricians, operating engineers, pipefitters, laborers, ironworkers and other crafts are recruiting apprentices and training the skilled workforce of tomorrow.

For those who disagree, California’s ranking as the world’s fifth-largest economy should at the very least prompt a good discussion. When California was in the midst of the Great Recession, strong environmental policies helped our members put food on the table. During those extremely difficult years, most construction ceased, but renewable energy projects helped provide jobs when our local unions were suffering up to 50 percent unemployment.

It is very rare for statewide policy to have such a positive impact on California’s environment and its economy. The renewable energy standard has lowered greenhouse gas emissions, improved air quality and created good-paying jobs.

We support environmental policies that improve transit, allow people to work closer to home and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Our transportation system is already overburdened and our state’s population will pass 50 million by mid-century. Greenhouse gas emissions are on the rise and our climate is changing, affecting thousands of Californians.

This is one reason why we support the high-speed rail project. We have learned from Spain, France, China, Japan and many other countries that high-speed rail is the most efficient and preferred mode of transportation between population centers 100 to 500 miles apart. Building more roads and airport runways to meet California’s travel demands is unrealistic, unsustainable and less affordable than high-speed rail. The question is no longer whether we can afford to build high-speed rail, but whether we can afford not to.

California has always been the nation’s environmental leader, and our persistent effort to tackle the most pressing issues facing our state is what has attracted so many millions of people here. Our predecessors made big investments and took on bold endeavors to build a strong, green and sustainable economy that naysayers proclaimed impossible.

I believe it is our responsibility to continue this work in order to ensure a sustainable environment and a strong economy for the next generation.

Cesar Diaz is legislative and political director of the State Building and Construction Trades Council and a participant in the The Sacramento Bee/McClatchy Influencers series. He can be contacted at Find the series (with more on the environment on Monday) at