California has $1.5 billion available this year to fight climate change, and many billions of dollars more coming in the years ahead, now that lawmakers have extended the state’s cap-and-trade program through 2030. Needless to say, there are plenty of people, groups, businesses and governments that would love to get a piece of the pie.
A fire district in the Bay Area, for instance, wants cap-and-trade money to reopen fire stations closed due to lack of funding. Inglewood wants $50 million for transportation infrastructure projects in its downtown redevelopment area. San Gabriel Valley leaders want money to build the Gold Line light-rail extension to Montclair. There are proposals to build farmworker housing, to pay for exhibits for the Columbia Memorial Space Center in Downey and to provide a free, electric shuttle in San Diego.
The list goes on. But here’s the catch: The law requires that cap-and-trade money be spent on projects to reduce global warming. While legislators are always tempted to bring home the bacon for their constituents any way they can get it, they need to remember the underlying goal of this particular law. They should commit to programs that cut greenhouse gas emissions and deliver real reductions in local air pollution.
One way to do that is to dramatically reduce pollution from diesel engines. The state has long offered rebates to companies and public agencies to install cleaner equipment on old, dirty diesel trucks, buses, trains, cargo equipment and farm water pumps. But there has never been enough money to address the need or to significantly reduce the health risks of diesel pollution, particularly in communities near major highways and freight centers.
Cleaning up diesel exhaust would help cut black carbon, a potent climate change pollutant, and reduce soot and toxic air contamination in the state’s most polluted communities. This dual approach — attack climate change and clean up local air pollution — was at the heart of this year’s compromise to extend the state’s cap-and-trade program.
Senate Democrats had initially proposed spending nearly $1 billion over the next year to replace diesel trucks, buses and other vehicles with cleaner versions. A deal cut this week by Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders proposes to spend less — about $750 million — for programs to clean up diesel pollution. That’s a good start, but lawmakers ought to commit to the longer-term goal of ending diesel pollution entirely.