09/17/2010 11:10 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Prop. 23 Shadows Gov. Schwarzenegger's Trade Mission to Asia

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, state trade officials and about 100 California private-sector leaders are just back from a one-week visit to Asia to develop business for a state that desperately needs it.

The Governor no doubt saw an economy being revolutionized by its investment in clean technology.

According to a recent New York Times report, more than a million Chinese workers are currently employed in solar and wind energy production and that number is rapidly growing:

"The booming Chinese clean energy sector, now more than a million jobs quickly coming to dominate the production of technologies essential to slowing global warming and other forms of air pollution. But much of China's clean energy success lies in aggressive government policies that help this crucial export industry in ways most other governments do not. These measures risk breaking international rules to which China and almost all other nations subscribe...."

Amidst China's booming clean tech industry, the Governor understands California's already on a parallel path to capture the jobs and investment of green technology.

California has created wave after wave of prosperity by leading the world in the next great technology, from aerospace to high-tech to biotech. A major way to grow our way out of the state's current financial mess is to take the lead once again, this time in clean energy technology. And thanks partly to AB 32, California already has the largest domestic clean energy economy.

Unfortunately, as the Governor traveled to China to build investment bridges between California and China, his group has a dark shadow following them: California's Dirty Energy initiative, Prop. 23. Funded by Texas-based oil companies Valero and Tesoro -- two of California's worst air polluters -- the Dirty Energy ballot proposition would "suspend" California's clean-air AB 32 legislation until the state's unemployment rate falls to levels we've only seen three times in 30 years. In other words, out-of-state oil companies are trying to kill AB 32's mandate to clean our air so they can keep on profiting from polluting it.

If California voters approve the measure in November, little of what Schwarzenegger and this group are saying about our state's forward-looking business climate will turn out to be true.

There's no question about the real effect the Dirty Energy Proposition would have. As the San Jose Mercury News wrote last month:

"It would be an absolute calamity to turn off the magnet [AB 32] that's attracting billions of dollars in job-creating investment. In 2009, 40 percent of clean-tech venture capital went to California, where some 12,000 companies are working on ways that could help businesses and consumers reduce energy consumption. More than 500,000 people work in the industry, including 93,000 in manufacturing and 68,000 in construction."

With AB 32 up for a vote, every statement Schwarzenegger makes about California as a modern business partner will come with an asterisk. How can California claim to be aligned with new global economic realities when the state's primary proof point -- clean energy and clean air mandates that are already creating green jobs -- is in danger?

As the Mercury News stated, "If Prop 23 passes, clean-energy investment will come to a halt." This is not speculation. It is already happening on a national level. After the collapse of Senate talks on a U.S. climate and energy bill that was modeled on AB 32, a Deutsche Bank executive told Reuters his bank would give up on the U.S. and direct most of the $7 billion it has to invest in clean energy into China and Western Europe. He said: "[Congress is] asleep at the wheel on climate change, asleep at the wheel on job growth, asleep at the wheel on this industrial revolution taking place in the energy industry." The same thing will happen to California if Prop. 23 passes.

Schwarzenegger & Co. have their work cut out for them. Thanks to a combination of government support and questionable trade policies, China has taken the global lead in the clean energy economy -- and exporting related products to such places as California.

The U.S. can still be a dominant player in this race. The question needs to be, do we want domestic industries manufacturing products that are Made in America and exported around the world, or do we want to import products made from China?

Californians will soon have a chance to answer that question and vote on our state's indisputable yet nascent progress in this vital area.

It is surely clear to the governor and California's trade delegation to Asia -- just as it should be clear to California voters -- that passing the Dirty Energy Proposition in November would be a dangerous and tragic great leap backward and greatly reduce our golden opportunity to help our state and country lead the next great global economy.