California has more than geeks and greenies to thank for its transformation into a clean tech Mecca; it's also gotten a boost from the passage of AB32, the state's landmark global warming law, say Silicon Valley's tech leaders. Yesterday and today, many of these eco-execs have gathered at a clean technology conference held at the Silicon Valley campus of SRI International, an R&D and consulting firm that has earned its share of lucre from the green tech boom. But here's one weird thing Silicon Valley might not know about SRI CEO Curtis Carlson: He has given money to a controversial campaign to derail AB32 that's backed by major oil companies.
Last month, Carlson wrote a $5,000 check to the California Jobs Initiative Committee, the backer of a November ballot initiative that would prevent AB32 from going into effect until the state's unemployment rate is cut in half. Other funders include Valero and six other oil companies, a coal front group, truckers, and the libertarian Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. They claim that AB 32 would cost the average small business in California $50,000, lead to the loss of 1.1 million jobs in the state, and "devastate the budgets of California social service agencies." AB32's supporters strongly disagree, pointing to competing studies that show the law would cost little and actually create jobs by incubating the kind of clean tech research that helped SRI earn nearly $500 million last year. SRI didn't respond to a request for comment.
Carson's opposition to AB32 is perplexing, to say the least. SRI is currently developing fuel cells, materials for solar cells, powerful batteries, and technologies for hydrogen storage, the smart grid, and nuclear power plants. It also earns money helping government agencies design environmental rules. "In the 1970s, our groundbreaking research into the environmental causes of lung disease led to regulatory guidelines for air pollution," its website says. "In the 1980s, we demonstrated how chlorofluorocarbons contribute to the ozone hole, and developed protocols for the EPA's regulation of pesticides."
The conference that SRI is hosting this week, Nordic Green II, has attracted a who's who of clean tech start-ups and investors, including Khosla Ventures, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Better Place, and Google. The latter two, along with SRI, are members of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, which in turn is an official supporter of Stop the Texas Oil Companies' Dirty Energy Proposition, the campaign against the campaign against AB32.
Rather than speculate on what Carson is thinking, I'll leave you with this intriguing list of SRI's business clients: