Green Jobs Need Protection, Not Preemption

by Shana Campbell Jones

October 30, 2008

Next year, Congress is all but certain to try to tackle climate change legislation again, and the stakes are higher than ever. Further delay in federal action would only compound the problem. But while Congress has been sitting on its hands for more than a decade, many states have taken action, seeing climate change not only as an environmental threat but also as an economic development opportunity.


Last week, for example, New Jersey Gov. John Corzine released an “energy roadmap” designed to drastically cut the state’s emissions and create 20,000 green jobs between now and 2020. This spring, the Washington State Legislature passed Gov. Christine Gregoire’s “Climate Change and Green Collar Jobs” bill, which will establish a “rigorous planning process for reducing greenhouse gas emissions statewide” and create 25,000 green jobs by 2025.


California, in particular, has led the way. On October 15, the California Air Resources Board released its “Scoping Plan,” outlining its strategy to reduce its carbon emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.  The plan was mandated by AB 32, California’s 2006 global warming law, and is set for Board approval this December. Key elements of the plan include achieving a statewide renewables mix of 33 percent, improving California’s clean car standards, and developing a California cap-and-trade program that links with other Western Climate Initiative partners and covers 85 percent of the state’s emissions. The Scoping Plan projects the following economic benefits to California:

  • $33 billion increased economic production;
  • $7 billion in increased overall gross state product;
  • $16 billion in increased overall personal income for Californians – about $200 per person; and
  • More than 100,000 more jobs.

In addition to these projected benefits, the Scoping Plan reports that, since California passed AB 32 in 2006, “venture capital investment in California has skyrocketed. In the second quarter of 2008 alone, California dominated world investment in clean technology venture capital, receiving $800 million of the global total of $2 billion.” According to a study by the University of California at Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group and Goldman School of Public Policy, investments in green technologies produce jobs at a higher rate than investments in comparable conventional technologies.


All that progress at the state level – and for that matter at the local level – is threatened, by efforts in Congress to include in climate change legislation language that preempts state and local efforts to fight global warming. On October 7, Energy and Commerce Chairman John Dingell (D-MI) and Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee Chairman Rick Boucher (D-VA) released their latest draft climate change bill, designed to be a “discussion draft.”  Among other things, the bill would preempt all state and regional cap-and-trade programs.


That would wipe out California’s emissions trading plan, which the California Air Resources Board describes as “a central feature” of its overall plan, covering an estimated 85 percent of California emissions. The plan is based on a detailed and comprehensive economic analysis of California’s unique economy, is designed to ensure that existing state environmental standards are met, and takes into account an evaluation of the impact of the program on California’s low-income populations.


In one fell swoop, the bill would undo years of aggressive and intensive efforts – undertaken in the face of shameful federal inaction – to cut emissions while growing the state’s economy, ensuring that low-income populations are not adversely affected by the plan, and creating green jobs. Moreover, as a recent CPR white paper points out, a federal program that takes a “one size fits all” approach would run contrary to 40 years of precedent with respect to federal/state environmental protection, prohibit state and local governments from acting in areas that have always been within their exclusive jurisdiction, and undermine the most meaningful governmental action to date in the United States to slow climate change.


To be sure, Congress needs to act on climate change. But it ought do so in a way that protects state efforts to cut emissions, to tailor planning to the specific needs of their economies, and create green jobs. The United States has a long way to go in reducing carbon emissions, and the federal government cannot go it alone. Without the active involvement of state and local governments, not only will we never achieve meaningful reductions, but we will also sacrifice crucial state leadership, technological innovation, and green jobs. So here’s a memo to Congress: protect green jobs, don’t preempt them.



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Shana Campbell Jones, J.D., is a consultant to the Center for Progressive Reform on Chesapeake Bay issues.  She joined CPR in 2007 as a policy analyst, and took on the role of executive director in 2009, before leaving the staff to teach environmental policy at Old Dominion University.

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