Letters to the Editor

Viewpoint: Laird: Clean tech is growing more work

The biggest issue facing California right now is bringing back the economy and creating jobs. One of the few economic bright spots in California is clean energy and the technology sector.

Policymakers in Sacramento should play to this strength. Not enough of them are.

While much of the economy remains stagnant, clean-tech jobs are soaring 10 times faster than the statewide average. The number of California green businesses has increased 45 percent, and green jobs expanded by 36 percent from 1995 to 2008, while total jobs in California expanded only 13 percent. Last year, when state employment fell 1 percent, green jobs continued to grow 5 percent.

The future looks even more promising. California’s clean technology sector received $9 billion in investment capital from 2005 to 2009 and $2.1 billion in 2009 alone — 60 percent of the total in North America and more than five times the investment in our nearest competitor, Massachusetts.

According to the Economic Development Department, more than 500,000 Californians are now employed in clean-tech industries, with that number projected to soar to 1.2 million by 2020, much of that in the Silicon Valley area.

Economists point to California’s landmark clean-energy and clean-air standards as the driving force behind our state’s leadership in clean technology. These standards were signed into law with broad bipartisan support in 2006, and I was pleased to champion them as one of three original co-sponsors of the legislation.

My opponent in this Senate race was among a small minority of legislators who didn’t agree. He termed these measures to protect our air and spur economic growth “a sham” and “government by press release.” He joined with Texas oil companies — instead of siding with the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, California Ski Industry Association and environmental groups — in trying to defeat the legislation.

As the Gulf oil spill tragically reminded us, the cost of our addiction to fossil fuels is enormous.

Environmentally, Silicon Valley depends on water that passes from the Sierra snowpack through the delta — both challenged in the long term by changes in the environment. The coast faces sea-level rise and a threat to the health of the California redwood.

Economically, we face the same risks along our coast that the Gulf states do, unless California continues to lead in the transition to a clean-energy economy. That is why it is critical that we generate our own power through renewable resources and keep our energy dollars here at home to bolster our local economy instead of sending them to Texas or the Middle East.

We also need a healthy higher-education system that feeds this research, extends the investment and trains our workers. That means we should work harder to make higher education accessible by supporting initiatives by the University of California to mentor high school students in math and science, while not increasing student fees. We must do more to compete in the world economy — not less.

We need a state legislator who understands and actively supports the important relationship between environmental policy and job creation in clean tech and the green economy. It’s an essential issue in this race.

On this and many issues important to voters, including public education, the environment, prominent social issues, reform of the state budget process and job creation, the differences between my leading opponent and I are stark.

On Aug. 17, voters will choose their next state senator. Absentee and early voting is under way, and the next senator will be a key vote on California’s future.

This viewpoint is re-printed with permission from the San Jose Mercury News.

John Laird is a Democrat from Aptos.