Lawmakers want ARB to study economic impact of AB 32

By John Howard | 06/18/09 12:00 AM PST

California’s landmark legislation targeting carbon emissions will cut greenhouse gases but will it also cut jobs? Nobody is really sure, but the Democratic leaders of the Black and Latino caucuses and their allies want to find out, and they’ve urging California air-quality regulators at the Air Resources Board to do more research.

Environmental supporters of AB 32 say it will increase jobs in a newly developing economy, but business interests are skeptical, saying that new greenhouse gas regulations may force companies to scale back or relocate.

A February report by the University of California’s Center for Labor Research and Education suggested that some earlier studies by the ARB were inconclusive. Two studies looking at energy and energy-intensive industries both showed “a small net job loss.” But they showed sharply different results in key sectors of the industry – one reflected a 33 percent decline in jobs in the distribution and generation of electricity, for example, while the other showed a 2 percent increase. “These differences lend doubt to the credibility of sector forecasts,” said the study, authored by the Center’s Carol Zabin. Economic modeling is critical “because they can guide initiatives to assist displaced workers and train workers with the skills needed for jobs in growing industries,” noted the study.

The study also noted that the industries, the so-called “heavy emitters” of greenhouse gases most subject to key provisions of AB 32, “account for about 20 percent of California jobs, have higher-than-average wages and union density, and are disproportionately filled by men and Latinos.”

That means roughly 3 million jobs could be affected – potentially reduced, increased, changed or transferred elsewhere.

“The idea behind it is that to have a smooth transition to a green economy, you need information about how different sectors of the economy will be impacted. All we did was look at industries that the ARB identified as heavy emitters, at how many jobs and the quality of those jobs,” said Zabin’s colleague, Andrea Buffa. “We found that there are more than 3 million jobs in those industries, that they tend to be good-quality jobs with better pay and benefits than the average in California.”

Last week, Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, D-Oakland, announced the introduction of ACR 77, which asks the ARB to do the new research. Swanson, the chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, was joined by Latino Caucus chairman Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia, Zabin and lobbyist Scott Wetch of the Coalition for Green Jobs. Wetch’s clients include unions that represent utility, sheet metal, electrical, plumbing and other workers.

“All we’re saying is we want the data,’ Wetch said. “What’s taken place thus far has been almost like an annoying obligation. The ARB has given short shrift to this. They are running this path with their eyes wide shut.”

There was no immediate comment from the ARB.

“If we don’t what the impact of AB 32 is, how can we know how some of the sectors I represent are going to be impacted, and how they are fighting for resources with those sectors that aren’t impacted?” he added.

Swanson’s resolution awaits its first policy hearing next month. The measure urges the ARB to conduct economic analyses sector-bysector through 2020, and seeks information on so-called “green collar” jobs that would be located inside and outside California as a result of AB 32.

The resolution also seeks details of expected wage levels of the jobs and the industry sectors in which they will be created, as well as on jobs that will be lost. Swanson also wants a plan to provide training for workers in green technology.

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