Proposition 23, the ballot measure that would suspend California’s progress toward a clean-energy economy, would be very bad news for California’s low-income and minority communities. It would stifle job growth, an effect especially harsh in minority communities, where unemployment is among the state’s highest. It would also stymie efforts to clean up some of the state’s most toxic facilities, areas where a disproportionate number of California’s minorities live.

If passed, Prop. 23 would require the state to abandon, for now, its comprehensive clean air and clean energy standards that include increased renewable energy and cleaner fuel requirements, mandatory emission reporting and fee requirements for major polluters. It would allow these programs to resume only after the state’s unemployment rate drops to 5.5 percent for a full year–something that’s happened just three times in 40 years.

California’s economy is recovering, but it will likely be more than a dozen years before unemployment drops that low, stifling development of clean energy technologies and setting back California’s efforts to compete with China and other states to win our share of the new economy–years we may not have.

California’s nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office recently refuted the claims by Prop. 23’s backers that the clean energy law is bad for the economy. It found the economic calculations used in those claims to be “essentially useless,” and it found that suspension of the clean energy law could “dampen additional investments in clean energy technologies or in so-called ‘green jobs’ by private firms, thereby resulting in less economic activity.”

Many of the affected minority communities are located just a stone’s throw from some of the state’s most toxic energy facilities.

In all, some 63 percent of the population residing within two and a half miles of these facilities is African American, Latino or Asian/Pacific Islander. And statewide on average, 70 percent of people of color are exposed to dangerous particulate matter linked to such pollution; this disparity is particularly sharp for African Americans.

Partly as a result of such exposure, California’s low-income communities are facing epidemics of asthma and lung disease due to air pollution, and thus contributes to thousands of premature deaths, hundreds of thousands of asthma attacks, and thousands of trips to the hospital.

Many of these toxic facilities are operated by some of the same out-of-state oil companies–including Valero, Tesoro and Koch Industries–that are spending millions of dollars in an attempt to pass Prop. 23. In fact, 98 percent of campaign cash for Prop. 23 is from the oil industry; 89 percent of it is from out-of-state.

Such communities–like Wilmington in the L.A. area where many of the toxic plants are located and the poverty rate is 25 percent–would benefit greatly from the solid, good-paying “green color” jobs a clean energy economy would bring.

As San Francisco State Urban Studies Professor Raquel Pinderhughes recently noted, the vast majority of green-collar jobs do not require high levels of education. In fact, clean energy businesses are one of the few bright spots in our recovering economy.

These businesses are creating many jobs that can provide pathways out of poverty for struggling families. Many of these jobs–in solar companies, energy efficiency firms, and green manufacturing–are “middle-skill” jobs. They pay well and require training and skill, but they are available to people without four-year university degrees.

Since 2005, California green jobs have grown 10 times faster than the statewide average.
If we kill our state’s clean energy and clean air standards, California would lose hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in investments. California would change instantly from clean energy “leader” to “laggard.” Other states would win the countless jobs and investments that California now attracts.

We know why the out-of-state oil companies like Prop. 23. With it in place, the Texas fox would be guarding California’s hen house, wiping out years of progress toward a clean energy economy, good jobs and a healthier quality of life.

Aubry Stone is president and CEO of the California Black Chamber of Commerce.