AB 32, California’s controversial energy bill, would require the state to cut its greenhouse gas emissions. Some believe this will lead to a new green economy that will benefit California. Others say it will create expensive electricity, and it will drive up costs for businesses and consumers. Proposition 23 on the ballot in November would suspend AB 32 until the economy improves. Here are two views on that topic, each with an L.A. slant.

California stands at a crossroads. The direction we take will determine whether we lead the nation into the beckoning clean energy economy or whether we relinquish our leadership and stand still, jeopardizing our health, jobs and environment.

The economic giants of tomorrow are working hard today to capture the innovative technologies, venture capital and green jobs that will give them a competitive edge as the world’s energy economy is transformed in the years ahead. California is in a very strong position to be one of these economic giants, but we are now facing a serious threat.

A proposition funded by Texas oil companies has been qualified for the November ballot that would, in effect, repeal California’s landmark global warming law, AB 32. This law was enacted four years ago with the support of a broad coalition of business, environmental and health organizations to set clean energy and pollution control standards, and to spur investment and create jobs in clean technology.

The law has been successful in bringing more than $9 billion in venture capital to California since 2005 – an astounding 60 percent of all venture capital invested across North America during that time period. 2009 alone saw more than $2 billion in venture capital invested here. As a result, California now has more than 12,000 clean technology companies and 500,000 people working in green jobs. If AB 32 is repealed, these types of companies and jobs will experience a significant downturn as billions of dollars of investments are shifted to other states or overseas.

Two generations ago, our nation faced similar crossroads. Air pollution was suffocating our cities, water pollution was destroying resources and habitats, and hazardous wastes were endangering the public health. An effort was launched to clean the air, water and land, but it too faced cries that pollution controls would cripple our economy. We chose wisely, enacting a broad set of environmental laws in the 1970s that have made our communities safer, healthier and more livable, and that have spurred a wide range of technological innovations and new economic opportunities.

Imagine, however, if polluting companies had been successful in overturning the Clean Air Act by funding a ballot proposition. Where would we stand today? Would Los Angeles still suffer from smog so dense that children could not play outdoors? Would thousands of Angelenos still die prematurely every year from respiratory illnesses? Would you still not be able to see downtown Los Angeles from only a mile away? While we have not completely solved these problems, we have made vast improvements.

Los Angeles is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, as many of our precious resources are at risk. Much of our drinking water is dependent on snowpack in the Sierras. If that precipitation falls as rain instead of snow, or does not fall at all due to global warming, we will be unable to sustain our economy and population.

We have already experienced the devastation that comes from wildfires, but such events could be far worse in the future as temperatures rise and droughts persist. And the progress that we have made in addressing air pollution could be stalled or even reversed if we don’t have the right policies to further reduce emissions from power plants, refineries and motor vehicles. AB 32 provides the policy framework that will allow us to continue to protect the public health.

Repealing AB 32 would not only set back our efforts to address the serious threat to California – and particularly to the L.A. region – from global warming, but it would halt our progress in becoming the leader in the new clean energy economy. According to the California Employment Development Department, we already have more than 500,000 green jobs, and more than 20 percent of those jobs are in manufacturing and construction.

In Southern California, examples of those kinds of jobs are all around us. Thousands of construction jobs are being created at the Abengoa solar thermal plant in San Bernardino, the BrightSource solar plant in the Mojave Desert and geothermal plants in Imperial County. My own organization – the Climate Action Reserve – is the largest and fastest-growing carbon offset registry in North America today and is bringing good, green jobs to downtown Los Angeles. These are real and tangible results from the clear signal AB 32 has provided that California is serious about being at the forefront of these emerging economic sectors.

Businesses have clearly responded to these signals and are relying on the certainty that California will continue to have strong policies supporting their investments in clean technologies. But, just as these seeds are beginning to sprout, this ballot proposition is seeking to introduce uncertainty and kill this growing part of our economy. We must stand up against this cynical and deceptive effort. We must choose the wise path by voting to keep California on the road to the clean energy future.

Gary Gero is president of L.A.-based Climate Action Reserve, a non-profit.

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