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Scare Tactics

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Industry is employing its all too familiar scare tactic of economic extortion to evade stronger environmental regulation in California. Out of state energy companies are falsely portraying increased environmental protection as a threat to economic prosperity, and their ruse is being expressed in the form of an initiative on the state's November ballot.

A "yes" vote on Proposition 23 would suspend implementation of California's landmark anti-air pollution law, which in the absence of federal action represents America's gold standard in emission reduction legislation.

The Texas industrialists, who are the brains behind Prop 23, have refineries in California. It's not to their liking that compliance with the state's new greenhouse gas emission reductions would cut into their profit margin. It's why they are trying to convince voters in economically strapped California that the choice is between job security and stricter environmental regulation. If Prop 23 is defeated and new pollution abatement measures take effect, these Texans warn that over a million jobs will be lost and electricity rates will rise 60 percent.

How many times is industry going to resurrect this phony conflict? A robust economy and healthy environment are symbiotic, not adversarial. Elevating environmental quality to its optimum level may cause some relatively minor temporary job displacement and higher overhead business costs, but over time, it is the only path to enduring economic prosperity.

If successful, industrial proponents of Prop 23 might experience a short term boost in their balance sheets and delight their stockholders. But should California's significant air quality problem be allowed to fester, there would be an enormous economic toll resulting from the additional medical costs and lost work hours of the thousands -- perhaps hundreds of thousands -- of victims of pollution. If green house gases are allowed to go unchecked over the state, what changes might the climate undergo that would have monumental adverse consequences for the California economy?

Dirty manufacturing facilities tend to be more energy inefficient, and have a shorter life span than their cleaner brethren. Moreover, Prop 23 would block the application of a broad array of incentives to expand the production and use of clean, renewable energy (solar, wind, etc.) and to increase substantially the number of green jobs in the region. In fact, it's estimated that if the oil men were to have their way, more than 500,000 green jobs in California could be lost in the next decade.

From a national perspective, Prop 23 would delay the transition away from fossil fuel use and thus hamper California's -- and the nation's -- competitive position in the new global energy economy. While China is ramping up its manufacture of solar panels and other alternative energy sources, Californians would be, for all practical purposes, in a state of denial.

Fortunately, there is distinct evidence that as in most cases, the oil industry's contention that pollution abatement will worsen the economy is not gaining much traction. Polls indicate that voters will reject Prop 23 by a comfortable margin. Even the state's Black Chamber of Commerce, vulnerable because of a minority constituency especially hard hit by unemployment, has not swallowed industry's guff.

Let's hope the entire nation will take its cue from California's expected rejection of Prop 23 and then proceed to address climate change accordingly.

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