Since Gov. Schwarzenegger announced his bold targets to reduce greenhouse gases, and followed it up with a plan to achieve them, a familiar debate has been reignited in California.
"In the past, we have been told by politicians, people in business, and even environmentalists that we have to choose between a healthy economy and a healthy environment," said Gov. Schwarzenegger at his Climate Action Summit on April 11 in San Francisco. "I reject this choice because it is a false choice."
The governor has talked frequently about this "false choice," but what evidence is there that he's right? Consider that a decade ago, Fox Animation wanted to build a state-of-the-art movie studio in southern California, but opted for Arizona, citing poor air quality and crowded freeways as chief among their reasons for fleeing from our state. California lost a $350 million studio and hundreds of high-paying, highly skilled jobs. Overall, California companies spend $15 billion a year in lost productivity due to traffic congestion.
As we contemplate putting a statutory cap on greenhouse gas emissions, some complain that the added cost of doing business in California will drive them to other states. But the non-profit Climate Group reports that Honda, DuPont, Kodak, Johnson & Johnson and a host of other companies, large and small, have added millions to their bottom lines by reducing greenhouse gas pollution. The easiest way to do that is through energy efficiency, which saves money for electricity and vehicle fuels, often the biggest expense for companies after employee costs. The state's Climate Action Team recently reported that a program to meet the governor's greenhouse gas reduction targets would result in 83,000 new jobs for California and a net increase in personal income of over $4 billion by 2020.
On the other side of the coin, failure to protect the environment has significant costs to the economy. The state Department of Water Resources has documented a trend over the past two decades of shrinking snow pack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the source of over half of the state's water supply. That results in costly floods, levee erosion, and economic impacts when growing demand for fresh water collides with reduced supply. Left unabated, the loss of snow pack could seriously damage the state's ski industry too. In another example, decades-long damage to the Klamath River and other watersheds has resulted in the decimation of our multi-million dollar salmon fishing industry, as the virtual closing of that fishery this month demonstrates.
Investing in the environment is still another way we invest in our economic vitality. Take for example, Solar Integrated, a company based in south-central Los Angeles, that puts roofs on large industrial buildings, integrating flexible solar panels into the roofing material to generate power. Solar Integrated employs hundreds of Californians in the manufacture and installation of these materials, reducing our dependence on fossil fuels in the process, and installs solar rooftops on schools and other state buildings, saving money for taxpayers in the bargain. These jobs can't be outsourced to China or India.
Protecting our environment not only makes money, it saves money too. The governor's pledge to reduce air pollution 50 percent by 2010 is not just good for our lungs, but for the state's balance sheet as well. Californians bear health care costs attributable to air pollution of at least $9 billion every year. We also face the loss of billions in federal highway funding if we fail to meet the governor's targets and that will impact every other business in the state.
The governor is right when he says that pitting the economy against the environment is a false choice. It's time to end that debate and to protect our economic future by taking care of our environment now.
Terry Tamminen is Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's Special Advisor for Energy and the Environment.
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