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California's environmental laws: Job creators, not job killers

April 11, 2013|By Paul Whitefield
  • Traffic moves along a street shrouded in haze in Beijing last month.
Traffic moves along a street shrouded in haze in Beijing last month. (Tomohiro Ohsumi / Bloomberg )

Who knew that being a smoggy place might be good for business?

Gov. Jerry Brown is in China, and one of the things he’s pitching is California’s expertise in dealing with smog. Because if there’s one thing we have in common with the Chinese, it’s air pollution.

Now, some of what Brown is doing is, well, kind of squishy. As my colleague Anthony York reported:

On Wednesday, he held a private meeting with Environmental Protection Minister Zhou Shengxian. They signed a nonbinding agreement "to enhance cooperation on reducing air pollution," the first such accord between China's government and a U.S. state and one of several Brown is scheduled to secure while here.

Under the pact, California will help China set up institutions to regulate air quality, similar to those the state has established, and the two nations will engage in research projects "of mutual interest."

Or, as old-timers like to say: “That and 50 cents will buy you a cup of coffee.” (Yes, kids, coffee used to be cheap, and a lot easier to order.)

Still, it’s a start. And it doesn’t mean that there aren’t actual business opportunities for California companies in China.

For example, as York reported:

Among those here who see business opportunities in China's environmental needs is Mike Hart, president and CEO of Sierra Energy, which specializes in converting trash into energy. His firm is working on a deal with a Chinese company to build a plant that will convert 500 tons of trash a day into electricity to power about 20,000 Chinese homes. Hart estimated the deal is worth about $80 million.

Also on the trip is Margaret Wong, CEO of the Sacramento-based McWong Environmental Technology, which specializes in wastewater treatment.

Wong already does extensive business in China, including numerous projects with Baosteel, the government-run steel producer that is third-largest in the world. And she has signed a $100-million deal to build and operate a water treatment facility at a chemical plant in Anhui province.

Which, face it, sounds a whole lot better than that Texas lawmaker who’s seeking to lure gun manufacturers to his state.

Folks from other parts of the U.S. may not realize it (heck, sometimes we in California forget), but the air really is better than it used to be in Los Angeles. As York pointed out in his story:

In the Los Angeles Basin in 1980, smog levels for eight-hour periods violated the federal standard 98 times. In 2012, that happened just once, according to figures from the California Air Resources Board, chief enforcer of the state's environmental laws.

China, though, is going the other way. As Brown noted this week during his trip, the bicycles of 30 years ago are being replaced by cars. And the factories pumping out iPhones and TVs and DVD players and all the other stuff headed for our shores are also pumping out pollution.

Helping China with its environmental issues is a win-win. The Chinese people will be better off, and the planet as a whole gets cleaner. Heck, it’s even a bipartisan issue, as former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger weighed in recently on The Times’ Op-Ed page about the dangers of ignoring climate change.

And if California businesses profit as well? It just demonstrates that, far from being job killers, our state’s tough environmental laws can be job creators.

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