California has a long history of taking environmental challenges and turning them into economic opportunity.

Thirty years ago, air pollution was so severe that in the Inland Empire and other locations, the health of residents was at risk.

Today the air is cleaner, and thousands of jobs and businesses that helped make that improvement are integral parts of the Southern California’s economy.

The same is true of our state’s landmark building and appliance standards. Criticized by some as “job killers” when enacted, these regulations have saved Californians more than $56 billion in energy costs (or about $450 per household per year). They also spawned thousands of small businesses specializing in energy-efficient technology, materials, and equipment, making California the world leader in this field — even during the recession. According to a study by NextTen, between January 2007 and 2008, “green” jobs grew five percent while total jobs dropped one percent.

Now we have a chance to repeat history with our state’s roadmap to a clean energy future, AB 32. Thanks to this legislation, California is at the forefront of a global shift to clean energy to reduce greenhouse gases. If we do not waiver, California can capture a multibillion dollar opportunity in the clean technology market.

Unfortunately, there is a move afoot by polluting industries to scuttle this law. It comes in the form of a proposed ballot initiative that would “suspend” the legislation unless once-in-a-blue-moon economic conditions occur. If the initiative passes, it would cause tens of thousands of California workers to lose their jobs and chill billions in investment in our clean energy future.

We cannot afford to lose our state’s competitive edge. European nations are already aggressively transitioning their economies. In Germany, the value of business activity in renewable energy and energy efficiency already exceeds the value of the auto industry. China just announced the world’s largest solar energy plant (with photovoltaic panels made by a U.S. company). Even nations like India are investing heavily in green technology.

In California, we see similar trends. Clean tech venture capital in our state hit an all-time high of $3.3 billion in 2008, capturing 57 percent of the national total. The state is firmly fixed on a path toward an economy based on stable, secure clean energy and we are at the forefront of the clean tech market. Our state’s clean energy law, AB 32, is the next logical step toward growing an ever-more efficient economy.

As a council member and former Mayor of Redlands, California, I have witnessed the economic power and local benefits of moving to a clean, low-carbon economy. In addition to the new, innovative small businesses in my community and the jobs they provide, these benefits include reducing infrastructure costs, attracting private investment, reducing household operating costs, improving national energy security, and improving public health.

By actively engaging now, cities in the Inland Empire are ensuring that our region’s economy is not left behind in the nationwide transition to a clean-energy economy.