Steyer-Backed Study Showed Job Losses in Region Where He Is Running Initiatives

California billionaire's PAC disputes impact, says Nev. and Ariz. would fare better

Tom Steyer
Tom Steyer / Getty Images

A study financed and released by Tom Steyer's PAC in 2015 showed that if the nation embarked on a path of deep decarbonization, the Mountain West region of the country—including Arizona and Nevada, where Steyer is currently backing two ballot initiatives—would see losses in both jobs and gross domestic product.

The study was released by the California billionaire's NextGen Climate America organization in November of that year to assert that implementing major shifts away from fossil fuels towards renewable technologies would add 1 million jobs nationwide.

The report, which is still available online, also forecasts that the Mountain West region of the country would not share in those job gains.

Steyer is currently funding ballot initiatives in two Mountain West states, Arizona and Nevada, that if approved by voters would dramatically boost the mandate for the use of renewable energies in each state.

A spokeswoman for NextGen America downplayed the impacts on those two states.

"The old modeling you cite does not show that deep decarbonization would cost Arizona and Nevada jobs," said Aleigha Cavalier.

"In this old modeling, Arizona and Nevada are lumped into a big, 8-state ‘Mountain' region. This Census Region includes states that are national leaders in the production of coal (WY, MT), gas (CO, NM, WY), and oil (NM, CO). The old modeling acknowledges job losses in this region, but they would occur in the states in the region with large fossil fuel industries—not Arizona and Nevada."

Cavalier did not supply a state-by-state employment and GDP breakout when asked for that data in a follow up.

"I think it's ridiculous for them to say a 2015 study is ‘old.'" said Jenna Bentley, director of government affairs with the Goldwater Institute, a free-market state-based think tank in Arizona opposed to the initiative.

"It's not old, the truth is that study is no longer conducive to their current agenda."

"From everything that I have seen, I do not believe this will be good for Arizona in any way, but even if you do take them at their word, the notion of plunging other states into this economic turmoil, that's bad public policy. But aside from that, looking at how this will impact Arizona, this will cripple Arizona's economy."

Bentley pointed to concerns that the Palo Verde nuclear plant in the state would be affected. The largest electricity provider in the state, APS, has said they would likely shutter the plant if the initiative passes. APS is opposed to the question and has funded a group to run a campaign against it.

The website for the proponent's campaign, Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona, argues the state has fallen behind in solar-related jobs when compared to other economies.

"Over the last five years, solar jobs have grown 9 times faster than the U.S. economy as a whole, but Arizona has actually lost solar jobs," the website says. "The Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona campaign is an opportunity to put sunny Arizona's unique natural resources to work generating clean, renewable energy while creating thousands of good jobs."

The Arizona question will amend the state's constitution by demanding a boost to the state's renewable energy portfolio from 12 percent in 2020 to 50 percent by 2030. Nevada's renewable portfolio would also aim to hit the 50 percent mark by 2030, whereas it is currently trying to attain a standard of 25 percent by the year 2025.

A study by Arizona State University research professor Tim James showed job creation in the state would likely tick up in the years immediately following passage of the question, but would then dip into negative territory eventually losing an estimated 585,000 "job years" of employment.

"The jobs total would drop as the higher costs of electricity would kick in to pay for the building spree," according to a BizJournal.com report on the James study. "That would bite into the ability of businesses throughout the economy to continue hiring at a rate commensurate with if the initiative had not passed, James said."

James's study was financed by APS.