Can an Abundance Agenda Unite Business?

Scarcity and high prices are not an inevitable fact of life in California. They are the result of political choices. For nearly 50 years, and with escalating severity that shows no sign of abating, politicians in California have enacted legislation that is explicitly responsible for unaffordable housing, unreliable and expensive energy, and chronic shortages of water.

The moral justification for these laws has been compelling and is easily summarized: protect people, protect the environment. But laws motivated by these ideals have become counterproductive. Nobody can afford to live in California anymore. And environmentalist inspired laws aren’t always helping. We have nearly destroyed our timber industry while suppressing natural fires, leaving us with overcrowded forests and superfires. We are shutting down our nuclear power plants, forcing our natural gas power plants to operate intermittently to cover the gaps when renewables aren’t productive. And our so-called “renewables” consume hundreds of square miles, consume a quantity of resources in their construction that is not sustainable, and have multiple adverse environmental impacts.

Rational solutions to California’s crisis of affordability are in plain sight. To begin with, restore a regulatory environment where investors in productive enterprises once again spend most of their money on materials and labor. As it is today, the majority of investment capital is spent on permitting, impact studies, litigation, fees, and financing charges as they cope with delayed approvals. California’s regulators are at best indifferent to the interests of investors who want to build productive assets. This must change, and it can change.

California’s business community has the wherewithal to hold politicians accountable. The problem today is that other special interests – public sector unions, trial lawyers, environmental lobbyists, and progressive billionaires – have put fear into the hearts of elected officials. They know that if these special interests are unhappy, they will be targeted and defeated in the next election. But they rarely have to fear the wrath of business interests.

The reason for this is because business interests are balkanized. Sure, the rideshare companies spent tens of millions to stop AB 5 from impacting their business model. The dialysis industry routinely spends tens of millions to fend of challenges to their business model from the unions. But these are defensive battles, fought on narrow fronts. To the extent businesses in California unify to stop anti-business legislation, it is always on defense. This, too, must change.

A political strategy to restore affordable abundance in California starts by uniting the industries that provide the foundation of all economic growth. That would be energy, water, agriculture, forestry, and housing. If these industries combined their resources, they could promote an agenda that would transform California. Together, they could educate the electorate, hire experts to challenge mainstream Malthusian studies, hold journalists accountable, and fund the inevitable litigation. And with all that in motion, they could pick off, several at a time, the elected officials responsible for the politics of scarcity.

Putting together a coalition like this, of course, isn’t going to be easy. It will require each industry sector to recognize and support the top operational priorities of every other member of the coalition. It would require an alliance as tight as NATO: an attack on one is an attack on all.

What is easy, all too often, is to discuss these policy ideas in general terms. So here is a specific set of priorities for each of these industry sectors:

1 – Instead of shutting them down, retrofit California’s natural gas powerplants and if necessary, require them to pump their CO2 emissions underground.

2 – Require California’s petroleum to be sourced in-state whenever possible, while adhering to the most responsible environmental standards in the world.

3 – Keep Diablo Canyon open and explore new sites for nuclear power stations in California.

4 – Invest in practical and innovative ways to harvest storm runoff in California, including fish friendly delta diversions, aquifer storage, and more surface reservoirs.

5 – Construct Carlsbad scale desalination plants to purify fresh water without the challenge of PFAS in recycled wastewater. Spend extra for designs that mitigate environmental impact.

6 – Restore full contracted water allocations from the State Water Project to farmers except during severe droughts, using as a guide the allocation percentages awarded prior to 2000.

7 – Streamline the process for awarding timber harvesting and forest thinning permits and pressure the federal government to resume awarding timber harvesting leases in the National Forests.

8 – Repeal any laws that restrict housing construction outside of existing urban areas, and revise building codes that add unnecessary costs.

These eight steps, if implemented, would enable healthy private sector competition to supply Californians with energy, water, food, lumber, and homes. Prices would drop, great jobs would be created, the benefits would ripple through every other economic sector in the state.

This vision of affordable abundance, something that was taken for granted for most of California’s history, can be modified this time to respect the many things we’ve learned over the past 50 years. We can continue to identify and transition to more sustainable ways to deliver our economic essentials. But we can do it in a way that is more deliberate and balances the needs of the environment with the needs of people.

Benjamin Franklin once famously said “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.” Right now, California’s most essential industries are hanging separately. It is time for them to work together.

This article originally appeared in the California Globe.

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