Van Jones, Dolores Huerta speak against Prop. 23

Proposition 23, the ballot measure that would roll back California’s greenhouse gas emissions law, would kill jobs and prevent environmental improvements in communities of color, three noted human-rights activists said today.

“I am very disturbed by Prop. 23, it is a deceptive proposition,” Van Jones – the Oakland social- and environmental-justice activist and author who went to Washington last year as President Barack Obama’s “green jobs czar,” only to be let go in the face of conservative criticism – told reporters on a conference call. “Every time we go to the ballot in California, there is one ballot measure that is a deceptive, tricky ballot measure that does the opposite of what you think it’ll do on first reading. This is that ballot measure.”

California attracted one out of every four dollars invested worldwide in clean energy technology last year, said Jones, now a visiting professor at Princeton University. “That terrifies the oil guys in Texas because they know if that continues the next energy breakthroughs that will eat into their profit margins will be coming out of California.”

Texas oil companies have put up much of the money to support Prop. 23.

“The idea that Texas oil guys are this concerned about whether people in watts or Berkeley have jobs is, on its face, ludicrous,” Jones said. “The job killer is not the underlying legislation moving us toward a clean energy future … The job killer is Prop. 23 itself.”

Dolores Huerta, a cofounder of the United Farm Workers union and president of the Dolores Huerta Foundation for Community Organizing, said she sees the ballot measure as “devastating in our communities.” Air quality in the southern San Joaquin Valley is already awful, she said, and “we know that if this passes, it will only make things worse.”

“We don’t want to make a step backwards,” Huerta said, adding that her and other groups strive to see the measure defeated. “We are doing everything that we can, we are phone banking, we are going to be going door to door in the Latino communities.”

Pam Tau Lee, founder and board member of the San Francisco-based Chinese Progressive Association and a founder and former chair of the Oakland-based Asian Pacific Environmental Network, said Asian-American voters tend to see themselves as environmentalists and can be rallied against Prop. 23. “Every no vote on prop 23 shows that the voters care about the future and welfare of all Californians.”

But Anita Mangels, spokeswoman for the campaign supporting Prop. 23, countered later this morning that a recent preliminary study by state air quality authorities found implementing AB 32 to reduce carbon emissions wouldn’t have much effect upon other air pollutants threatening California’s communities. And, she said, the state has long said that carbon emissions alone don’t have a direct impact on public health.

Today’s teleconference was organized by Communities United Against the Dirty Energy Proposition, a coalition of about 130 community-based organizations and businesses rallying voters of color and low-income voters against the measure. Communities United is being coordinated through the Oakland-based Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, of which Jones is a co-founder, and the Berkeley-based Greenlining Institute.