Editorials

Moderate Democrats are right to press for better California clean-energy plan

Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins is touring the state to talk about California’s transportation needs. She will be in Fresno  on Friday to talk with stakeholders about how to fund highway maintenance and repair and meet future needs. She also has her hands full with moving two controversial clean-energy bills, backed by Gov. Jerry Brown, through the Assembly.
Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins is touring the state to talk about California’s transportation needs. She will be in Fresno on Friday to talk with stakeholders about how to fund highway maintenance and repair and meet future needs. She also has her hands full with moving two controversial clean-energy bills, backed by Gov. Jerry Brown, through the Assembly. Associated Press

California’s Democratic Party leaders and environmentalists are putting a full-court press on skeptical holdouts in the Assembly to pass Senate Bill 350, which sets ambitious reductions in carbon emissions by 2030.

If you haven’t followed the debate, you should know that SB 350 sets these 2030 goals: cut petroleum use 50 percent, get 50 percent of electricity from renewables, and increase the efficiency of buildings by 50 percent.

In addition, a companion bill, SB 32, calls for bigger cuts in carbon emissions by 2050.

We support any legislation that protects our planet and enables people to enjoy fuller, healthier lives. We also recognize and are proud that California is a national and world leader in embracing new technologies and solving serious problems with fresh approaches that sometimes involve a bit of risk.

But unfortunately in California’s embrace of the green revolution, San Joaquin Valley residents – especially those in poor rural economies – have been made to bear a disproportionate share of the costs, while reaping less than their share of the benefits.

How has that happened?

The political calculus is that the Valley simply doesn’t have the clout to win many Capitol battles. Often, the power brokers from Southern California and the Bay Area meet behind closed doors and negotiate the important details – and thus the winners and losers – in major legislation.

But that isn’t the case this time. Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins needs the support of moderate Democrats from the Valley and other parts of the state to move SB 350 and SB 32 to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.

We urge the moderate Democrats to use their leverage wisely and amend these bills in ways that help all Californians. Here is what we would like to see:

▪  The Valley and other regions where air pollution poses major health risks should get the lion’s share of funding for incentives and infrastructure that reduce emissions. Not an equal share. Not a so-called “fair share.” The lion’s share. Put the money where the biggest problems are.

▪  Do not let “perfect” be the enemy of “progress.”

For example, Assemblyman Henry T. Perea of Fresno has legislation, AB 857, that would help transition the trucking industry from diesel to low-carbon alternative fuels. The bill unanimously passed the Assembly, but its fate in the Senate is unknown, and opponents say that it will delay progress in converting to electric engines for long-haul trucks.

Our view is that the Valley needs cleaner air as quickly as possible. Says Perea: “Under AB 857, these next-generation truck engines will reduce NOx by 90 percent compared to a conventional diesel truck, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by almost 50 percent. Each truck replaced would be the equivalent of replacing 98 gasoline cars with electric cars.”

▪ If the California Air Resources Board has a plan to reduce petroleum consumption by 50 percent, citizens need to see it. California residents have a right to know what changes they will have to make as they go about their lives daily. Moreover, lawmakers need to be held accountable for their roles in these changes. Thus, Assembly and Senate approval of CARB’s plan for petroleum reduction should be required.

▪  Legislative leaders should offer a plan for reducing the increased costs that will accompany carbon reduction. It could be tax credits to soften increased electricity bills for low- and moderate-income families or rebates for buying used cleaner-burning vehicles. The effort to combat climate change must not heap additional burdens on those struggling to make ends meet.

Brown and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, the author of SB 350, are leading the charge on carbon reduction. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, state Attorney General Kamala Harris and others have called for passage.

We would like to see a cutting-edge attack on carbon emissions, too. But there are too many unknowns and there has been too little discussion about this legislation among people outside of the Capitol.

Assembly Speaker Atkins is a talented leader. We trust that she will listen to the concerns of holdout Assembly members and work with them to produce a better and more specific plan to cut carbon emissions.

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