California wants to give dispirited federal workers a job
A young lawyer for the Environmental Protection Agency had a heavy feeling as he headed to work one morning last week. Like many EPA staffers, he’s been distraught over the steady stream of negative news about the Trump administration’s plans for his agency and what it all means for his future. That morning the White House had released its budget proposal, calling on Congress to cut 31 percent of the EPA’s budget, more than 50 programs and 3,200 of the agency’s 15,000 employees.
The lawyer’s subway stop, the Federal Triangle Metro Station, dumps people out under a grand archway between two entrances to the EPA’s ornate limestone DC headquarters. As he road up the escalator, he encountered a small group of people standing in the cold wind, passing out fliers and holding signs that read: “fight climate change; work for California.”
A man with a bushy gray mustache exclaimed: “I’m recruiting for California jobs!” and introduced himself to the EPA lawyer as Michael Picker, the president of California’s Public Utilities Commission, which regulates electric companies and other utilities.
Picker explained that he has 250 job openings and more on the way. California’s Air Resources Board and Energy Commission also have opportunities for federal employees frustrated with the direction the Trump administration is headed. “All the jobs will have impacts on climate change in some ways,” he said.
Picker’s recruitment drive is more than a publicity stunt: His agency is short-staffed already, and he’s steadily losing employees to retirement. He needs reinforcements to meet an enormous challenge in front of him. He needs to ensure that electric utilities make the investments necessary to generate enough clean energy to meet California’s ambitious climate change goals. (California is committed to getting 50 percent of its power from renewable energy by 2030.)
The EPA lawyer said his encounter with Picker last week lifted his spirits giving him a sense of “relief” and “hope.” He’d already considered seeking a job in California, where the state government has a strong commitment to environmental protection. “There’s a pull and a push, especially with the budget coming out today,” added the lawyer, who like other EPA staffers didn’t want his name used for fear it would put his job in jeopardy.
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This was just the kind of encounter that Picker hoped for when he decided to turn an already planned trip to Washington, D.C., into a mini recruiting mission. His goal was to try to lure talented federal employees to California state government by promising them a chance to work someplace still committed to fighting climate change. He also spent a morning passing out flyers at the Energy Department. But he was especially happy with how things went outside EPA’s headquarters. One EPA staffer ran inside and returned with a resume. An EPA engineer asked for extra fliers for his colleagues. Picker passed out business cards, offering to help the D.C. refugees navigate the cumbersome hiring process at California state agencies. “Thank you for offering to rescue us!” one EPA staffer bellowed as he walked past.
Picker’s challenge is bigger than getting companies to generate cleaner electricity. He also has to ensure they make investments to transform the electric grid to meet the challenges of all the additional renewable power that’s coming on line.
The grid was designed as a centralized system where electricity was generated by relatively few large power plants. The grid now needs to get a lot smarter to manage many thousands of new sources of power, from large-scale solar and wind farms to solar panels on top of people’s homes. Cleaner electricity isn’t enough: California also wants to shift its vehicles to clean electricity. “That’s why we need people; to help build the infrastructure California needs to get greenhouse gases out of our economy. These tasks aren’t going to solve themselves.”