Opinion Columns & Blogs

Valley should stay the course on clean air with AB 32

In this May 2015 photo, Salvador and Richarda Mendoza, a Fresno couple have received a solar system for free, as part of a state program to help low-income people living in poor areas. It will save them utility costs so they can buy medicine the husband requires.
In this May 2015 photo, Salvador and Richarda Mendoza, a Fresno couple have received a solar system for free, as part of a state program to help low-income people living in poor areas. It will save them utility costs so they can buy medicine the husband requires. THE FRESNO BEE FILE

It’s hard to drive a car while looking in the rear-view mirror, not to mention dangerous. But that’s exactly what some are asking us to do when it comes to climate change.

Recently, a former California lawmaker opined on fresnobee.com in opposition to the state’s signature climate change effort (“Cap-and-trade revenue should go to fix our Valley air,” Alan Nakanishi, Apr. 19). What’s really happening here is the oil industry and its allies – the genesis of all major opposition to climate and clean energy progress – are resurrecting the ghosts of a battle they lost a decade ago, to rehash it again. We’re busy moving forward, but they’re staring in the rear-view mirror and trying to drive us in reverse.

Ten years ago, we knew we had to act – and we had a spirited debate in California about how best to tackle the climate crisis. With bipartisan support, state lawmakers approved a landmark bill called Assembly Bill 32, which then Gov. Schwarzenegger, a Republican, signed into law. I was one of those lawmakers who cast an “aye” vote.

I voted to support AB 32, which promised a new path toward cleaner air for millions of children in the Central Valley. I am proud to have supported this effort that set into motion a comprehensive agenda to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, which we are on target to exceed. The law allowed for the creation of a program known as “cap and trade,” through which major pollution emitters pay for what they’re putting into our air, an approach which industry supported. The end result: funds from this program are now being used as “climate investments,” supporting projects to improve air quality in the San Joaquin Valley and throughout the state.

Nakanishi alleges the funds from AB 32 are being squandered. Yet, in the San Joaquin Valley alone, hundreds of millions of dollars in climate investments have helped low-income residents obtain solar panels, supported affordable housing developments near public transportation, promoted more efficient transportation solutions, and more.

The Fresno County Rural Transit Agency received $70,000 to support zero-emission transportation options like van pooling, shuttles, and bike-sharing, and charging stations for plug-in vehicles.

In downtown Fresno, $5 million is helping transform the vacant Hotel Fresno into a mixed-income development with 79 apartments, allowing Valley residents easy access to downtown amenities and public transportation.

A $3 million investment will support climate-friendly commute van pools for farmworkers in rural areas. In Tulare, Colony Energy Partners is using $3 million generated by AB 32 to divert more than 110,000 tons of waste annually from California’s landfills and produce clean-burning, renewable biomethane that can displace diesel in vehicles.

As the use and transportation of water is among the biggest sources of emissions, additional climate investments are helping local farmers switch to more efficient irrigation practices. Thanks to a law called Senate Bill 535 (De León), a minimum of 25 percent of climate investments must benefit Californians who face the worst pollution, and we’re surpassing that number in practice.

Regrettably, even this proof that climate investments are going to good use won’t change the minds of those who voted against improving the region’s air quality when they had the chance.

Looking honestly at the road ahead, we find that California’s suite of clean energy and climate policies are propelling us toward cleaner air and healthier communities, and we won’t turn back. Looking in the rear-view mirror and lamenting for the days of more pollution and less action are over.

Dean Florez is past Senate majority leader and currently a member of the California Air Resources Board.

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