Linking clean-energy laws to economic opportunity

A Bay Area nonprofit has launched a new campaign highlighting how California’s climate-change and clean-energy laws not only protect the environment and public health, but also bring jobs and consumer savings to communities of color and low-income neighborhoods across the state.

UpLiftCAThe Greenlining Institute – a Berkeley based group founded to fight redlining, the practice of denying economic opportunities to people of color – on Monday launched UpLiftCA.org, a site offering stories of real Californians already benefitting from the state’s burgeoning clean-energy economy. More stories will be added in coming months, and a Spanish-language version will be launched in January.

The campaign is being launched even as foes of California’s landmark climate law try to roll back a provision making gasoline subject to carbon-emission penalties starting in 2015, which will causes gas prices to rise somewhat.

“The oil industry and its front groups have shamelessly tried to mislead communities of color about California’s laws to fight global warming, masquerading as consumer advocates when all they want is to protect their own profits,” Greenlining Institute Executive Director Orson Aguilar said in a news release. “We’re going to make sure our communities hear the truth.”

State law requires that a quarter of the money raised by carbon permit sales under California’s cap-and-trade program must go to projects that benefit highly polluted and economically struggling communities. That’s about $272 million in this fiscal year for clean energy, energy efficiency, clean transportation, urban forestry and affordable housing near public transit.

The California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery last month announced a series of grants to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from solid waste disposal – projects that will bring new jobs and cleaner air to places like Perris, Oakland, Tulare and Fresno.

Leonard Robinson, who chairs the California Black Chamber of Commerce’s Energy and Environment Committee and is a former California Environmental Protection Agency Department of Toxic Substances official under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, said California is thinking forward.

“Part of the fees that companies are charged for putting greenhouse gases into the air are being invested in California’s most vulnerable and underserved communities to improve health and create local jobs,” he said. “These jobs are real – California added over 3,500 solar power jobs last year alone.”

Greenlining’s website includes simple explanations of how the laws work, and practical information for people and businesses on energy efficiency, low-cost solar power, rebates for plug-in electric cars, and more.

“For too many decades, low income neighborhoods and communities of color were used as toxic dumping grounds,” said Vien Truong, Greenlining’s environmental equity director. “This is a huge chance to right a historical wrong and bring real benefits to our communities, and community advocates are working closely with the state to make sure these benefits are real and get to where they need to go.”


Fracking activists to protest Jerry Brown in SF

Anti-fracking activists intend to protest as Gov. Jerry Brown visits the Bay Area this afternoon to sign a regional agreement to align government policy, combat climate change and promote clean energy.

Brown is scheduled to be at Cisco-Meraki’s San Francisco headquarters at 4 p.m. to sign the pact with Washington Governor Jay Inslee, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber and British Columbia environmental officials.

But the Californians Against Fracking coalition – which includes members of more than 150 groups including MoveOn.org Civic Action, CREDO, Friends of the Earth, Food & Water Watch, Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Race, Poverty, and the Environment, and Environment California – say Brown’s support of fracking could undermine any progress the agreement would make.

Brown last month signed into law SB 4 by state Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Calabasas, which creates the state’s first rules for hydraulic fracturing or acidation to extract oil and natural gas. Some environmentalists, including this coalition, argue that only a moratorium on these techniques will keep California safe from environmental harms and further the state’s clean-energy goals.

The activists who’ll protest Brown’s appearance today say using fracking, acidization, and other unconventional extraction techniques to access 15 billion barrels of crude oil beneath California would produce nearly as much global warming pollution as the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, and set back the state’s progress on combating climate change.


Oil-extraction tax measure dies, but will return

A student-led campaign to put an oil-extraction tax ballot measure before California voters has failed – and is starting all over again with renewed vigor.

Monday was the signature-gathering deadline for the “California Modernization and Economic Development Act,” a measure conceived at UC-Berkeley that would’ve imposed a 9.5 percent tax on oil and natural gas extracted in the state. Petition circulation began April 25, but the proponents couldn’t hit their 504,760-signature mark.

But Californians for Responsible Economic Development, the student-led group that drafted the initiative, plans to resubmit a revised measure.

California oil wells“This summer has been busy for the CMED team,” said Aaron Thule, the campaign’s grassroots coordinator. “After a lot of hard work, we have built a signature gathering coalition for fall and winter that will be ready to activate and qualify this initiative come November.”

The tax would’ve raised an estimated $1.5 billion to $2 billion per year. In its first decade, 60 percent of its revenue would’ve been split equally among K-12 education, community colleges, the California State University system and the University of California system; 22 percent would’ve gone to clean-energy projects and research; 15 percent would’ve gone to counties for infrastructure and public health and safety services; and 3 percent would’ve gone to state parks. After the first decade, 80 percent would’ve gone to education, 15 percent to counties and 5 percent to state parks.

The revised initiative will have a sliding scale tax of 2 percent to 8 percent, which the proponents say will protect small business owners and jobs while still bringing in about $1 billion per year.

The revised initiative also will change the revenue allocation: 50 percent would be put in a special 30-year endowment fund for education, which after three years would start paying out equally to K-12, community colleges, CSU and UC. The proponents predict that after 30 years of collecting interest, it would bring in as much as $3.5 billion per year for education.

Another 25 percent would provide families and businesses with subsidies for switching to cleaner, cheaper energy, and the final 25 percent would be put toward rolling back the gas tax increase enacted last July, to make gas more affordable for working-class Californians, the proponents say.

Working to qualify the measure by early spring will be the University of California Student Association, groups at San Francisco State University, Sonoma State University, CSU Bakersfield and several community colleges. California College Democrats and California Young Democrats, both of which have endorsed an extraction tax for education and clean energy, are also lending support.

“It’s hard to believe that California is the only state that practically gives away our energy – especially when, as a state, our schools and colleges continue to struggle and we have yet to provide adequate funding to meet our own renewable energy standards,” College Democrats President Erik Taylor said.

The UCSA, representing hundreds of thousands of UC students, plans to organize across several campuses. “Affordability and funding are critical issues at the UC and Prop 30 simply is not the solution in itself that we need,” UCSA President Kareem Aref. “Our campaigns for this year are designed to ensure a stable and long term funding stream for the UC.”


Former Senator joins Stanford energy think tank

Former U.S. Senator and Stanford Law School alumnus Jeff Bingaman will join Stanford’s Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance to develop policies to help states and local communities promote increased use of clean energy.

Jeff BingamanThe Steyer-Taylor Center for is a joint initiative of Stanford Law School and the Graduate School of Business to study and advance the development and deployment of clean-energy technologies through innovative policies and financial mechanisms. Dan Reicher, formerly of Google, the clean-energy investment sector, and the U.S. Department of Energy, is the center’s executive director.

Bingaman will focus on helping 29 states (including California) plus the District of Columbia extend and update their Renewable Portfolio Standards – policies to promote increased generation of electricity from renewable energy sources. Seven other states have adopted voluntary goals for generation of electricity from renewable sources.

Bingaman, a New Mexico Democrat who spent 30 years in the Senate, was the lead champion of the Clean Energy Standards Act of 2012, which would have required greater use of low-carbon energy sources. He served as chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and on the Senate Finance Committee, as well as the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

During his appointment as a distinguished fellow from April 2013 to April 2014, he’ll assess the status of current RPS programs and try to determine what policies might be adopted to update and improve those programs.

“Senator Bingaman will bring unparalleled policy and finance experience to the work of the center at a moment when energy is on the national and international agenda like never before,” Reicher said in a news release.

Bingaman will collaborate with the Environmental Law Clinic within the Mills Legal Clinic, which provides law students with hands-on experience in policy work on environmental and energy issues and in client representation. In addition, the former Senator will provide research opportunities to other law students, business school students, and also collaborate with energy scholars throughout campus, including at Stanford’s Precourt Institute for Energy.


Lawmakers hold hearing on clean energy economy

Two Assembly members from the East Bay co-chaired a hearing today on keeping California at the forefront of the world’s clean-energy sector.

Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, and Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, co-chair the Assembly Select Committee on California’s Clean Energy Economy, and convened the hearing this morning at the State Capitol.

“We have a dynamic entrepreneurial spirit in this state that is in sync with Californians’ desire to produce clean energy, create jobs and improve our environment,” Wieckowski said in a news release issued later today. “We have the venture capital, the innovation ecosystem and a sound clean energy policy framework. We need to do a better job at coordinating services and incentives, and make sure we continue with the policies that have helped spark the industry.”

Panelists included F. Noel Perry, founder of Next 10; Rana Mookherjee, senior director of project finance at Fremont-based Solaria Corp.; Alissa Peterson, director of product marketing and business development at Hayward-based Primus Power; Mickey Oros, senior vice president for business development at Folsom-based Altergy Systems; Nancy Pfund, managing partner of DBL Investors; and Henry Yin, founder and president of USA-China Link.

Panelists discussed the state’s access to venture capital, its research and development capabilities and its clean energy incentives as reasons why so many clean tech companies start here. But federal clean energy subsidies are inadequate and temporary, and with increasing competition from other states and nations, California’s future isn’t assured.

“We have some competitive advantages that other states do not, but what the private sector is telling us is we need to be smart about which incentives we use and how we package them so our companies will want to keep more manufacturing here in California,” Wieckowski said.


NRCC launches Solyndra ad against Garamendi

The National Republican Congressional Committee is going after Rep. John Garamendi with a television ad that attacks him for supporting the Obama Administration policies which brought about the loan guarantee to now-bankrupt Fremont solar manufacturer Solyndra.

It’ll be playing for about two weeks on cable channels serving the newly drawn 3rd Congressional District in which Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, is seeking re-election next year. The NRCC in recent years has run such ads in the Bay Area only against Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton – the only local member the national GOP has seen as vulnerable.

But the NRCC believes redistricting has left Garamendi much more vulnerable than he used to be. They say that his new district will vote far less partisan Democrat; that when he ran statewide for lieutenant governor in 2006, he lost this area; and that – as I wrote Monday – GOP challenger Kim Doblow Vann raised more money than he did in the third quarter of this year, with more money in the bank as of Sept. 30.

Here’s the script:

OFF SCREEN CHARACTER: “My name is Nancy and I have a problem.”
ANNOUNCER: The Washington politicians need some therapy for their addiction.
OFF SCREEN: “Hi Barack.”
ANNOUNCER: They have an addiction to wasting government money and gambling on risky loans.
The government just lost millions on a bankrupt solar energy company called Solyndra.
President Obama blamed the loss on a gambling philosophy.
OBAMA: “That’s exactly what the loan guarantee program was designed by Congress to do, was to take bets.”
ANNOUNCER: Take bets? With tax dollars?
The Obama administration loaned money to Solyndra even after they’d been warned it was financially unstable.
OBAMA: The true engine of economic growth will always be companies like Solyndra.
ANNOUNCER: John Garamendi supported the Obama policy that loaned Solyndra money.
Garamendi backed Obama’s failed stimulus economic policy.
John Garamendi and President Obama are making our economy worse.
DISCLAIMER: The National Republican Congressional Committee is responsible for the content of this advertising.

I’ll post comments from Garamendi as soon as I get ‘em; check back for updates.

UPDATE @ 8:18 A.M. WEDNESDAY: Garamendi sent me his response to the ad this morning:

“If we’re going to make it in America, we need to Make It In America. By drastically cutting our nation’s investments in clean energy manufacturing and research, Tea Party Republicans would prefer to destroy jobs in the United States and encourage the outsourcing of American jobs. Imagine where our country would be today if we just gave up after early setbacks in the space program, the Internet, and medical research. The quitters were wrong then; they’re wrong now.

“The Solyndra loan guarantee didn’t pan out, and that is unfortunate. It is even more unfortunate that the Republican Party is using this as an opportunity to malign investments in clean energy manufacturing at a time when we need to come together for the good of our nation to Make It In America again. In California alone, six large solar facilities that received loans from the same Recovery Act program as Solyndra are on track to create 4,000 good construction jobs over the next five years. There are more than 100,000 solar jobs in America, double the number that existed in 2009, largely thanks to government investments. Jobs and American recovery will not come from surrendering entire industries to China.”

UPDATE @ 12:38 P.M. WEDNESDAY: Apparently this was previously scheduled, but now it’ll be another opportunity for Garamendi to hammer his point home – he’s doing a news conference tomorrow with the BlueGreen Alliance at PG&E’s Vaca-Dixon Solar Station near Vacaville, to emphasize the importance of passing legislation to invest in clean energy research and American-made manufacturing.

“The number of jobs in solar energy has doubled to more than 100,000 since 2009, largely thanks to smart public investments in our clean energy future,” he said in a news release today. As with GPS, the Internet, and medical breakthroughs, government can spur innovation that allows new industries to blossom and enables businesses to employ millions of Americans.”

The Vaca-Dixon Solar Station, a two-megawatt solar pilot project completed in June 2010, is part of PG&E’s five-year plan to promote development of up to 500 megawatts of medium-sized solar photovoltaic projects in its service area; the company says this will help meet California’s AB 32 climate-change goals. The solar panels at the facility were assembled in America.

UPDATE @ 3:20 P.M. THURSDAY: The final update (I hope). Garamendi is now raising campaign money off the NRCC ad, with an e-mail alert that went out today. It said, in part:

We knew it would come to this. Washington Republicans are now running outrageous attack ads against me for supporting American-made clean energy investments.

Republicans are using these misleading attack ads to distort the truth about clean energy. If the Tea Party has its way, we will surrender our clean energy future to China and other competitors.

So long as I’m in Congress, I’ll do all I can to stop them. We need to Make It In America if we’re going to make it in America. But, we need urgent Rapid Response funds to fight back and spread the truth about their misleading attacks. We have set a goal to raise $10,000 before Monday for our efforts. Will you help us with an urgent gift today of $25, $50 or more right now?

Contribute $25. $50 or even $100 or more today before Monday’s urgent Rapid Response deadline…