Climate change is real and is a serious threat to the quality of life on our planet.
Across California, most people believe we have a responsibility to do something to address our climate challenges. I agree.
However, it is important to recognize our state’s climate policies have different effects in the diverse regions of our state. In the Central Valley, where we have some of the highest rates of poverty and unemployment in the nation, even modest increases in the cost of gas, energy, and housing can be devastating to hard-working families.
Any effective Cap-and-Trade program must account for these inequities and ensure all areas of the state can benefit from our collective efforts to combat climate change.
The Cap-and-Trade extension package passed by the legislature last week fails to do so.
Under this plan, the Central Valley will continue to bear a disproportionate burden of the costs without receiving any clear benefits. Independent analysts estimate that the extension of Cap-and-Trade will increase the price of gas anywhere up to $1 per gallon. This increase will hit people who live in my district the hardest. Unlike the urban centers in the state, we do not have the transportation infrastructure that allows us to forgo driving to get to work or to pick up our kids from school.
What do we get for this dramatic increase in our energy costs? The expenditures of Cap-and-Trade revenues have not yet been decided. While I’m hopeful the Central Valley will get its fair share, the state has a poor track record of ensuring the benefits of our climate programs are shared equitably across the state.
Let’s look at a specific example. Hydropower, generated from dams, is one of the cleanest energy sources on the planet. However, California refuses to recognize hydro as part of its renewable energy portfolio. This has been an annual multimillion-dollar burden to the ratepayers of Stanislaus and Merced counties where we, at our own expense, constructed major dams for irrigation and power supply purposes. But Sacramento ignores this, so our local utilities are forced to buy more expensive energy from other suppliers. Turlock Irrigation District estimates this costs its ratepayers $20 million per year alone.
Our climate change policies have additional contradictions. One of our greatest energy resources in the valley is solar. California does not recognize rooftop solar as renewable in meeting its goals. Massive solar farms count, but the many thousands of solar units on farms and homes do not. Local ratepayers pay for this unreasonable policy.
Addressing the economic and environmental challenges of the 4 million people who live in the San Joaquin Valley should be a priority – not an afterthought. Time after time, we see the state’s funding formulas penalize us, while investing elsewhere to ensure that people get tax credits for driving Teslas.
I demanded to see the tangible benefits to our area before voting to support the recent transportation measure, Senate Bill 1. My vote to support the bill came only after it was clear the funding formula was fair, so that transportation dollars did not get consumed by the Bay Area and Los Angeles at our expense. I also demanded a constitutional amendment to protect these revenues from being raided to keep Sacramento honest.
There are no such guarantees for the Cap-and-Trade revenue.
California should lead by putting a model in place that invests in the Central Valley and other communities plagued with high unemployment and a struggling economy – a program that incentivizes investment in all clean energy sources including rooftop solar and hydro power; a program that makes sure every dollar of economic damage done to the Central Valley is replaced with a dollar of new investment.
I will be a forceful advocate for meaningful and fair actions to address climate change challenges in California, but will never neglect the people who elected me to represent them.
Adam Gray represents the 21st Assembly District, which includes Merced and part of Stanislaus counties.