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SJ Valley may go to hell, but air will be clean
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Pundits can’t figure out why moderate Democrats in the Central Valley and the Inland Empire aren’t jumping for joy at the chance to extend and strengthen Assembly Bill 32 — better known as the greenhouse-gas emissions law — beyond 2020.
For starters it might have something to with the state’s least wealthy regions — including the San Joaquin Valley of which the Congressional Research Office has identified most of it as the country’s new Appalachia — would proportionately pay the biggest price.
The focus of the discomfort of the moderate Democrats of California’s interior is the greenhouse bill proposed by State Senator Fran Pavely, who authored AB32 back when she was an Assembly member. Pavely — who now represents parts of Los Angeles and Ventura counties in the State Senate — is pushing Senate Bill 32. The issue isn’t as much extending the greenhouse-gas emission law as it is raising the bar so high it would lay economic waste to struggling communities.
AB32 requires greenhouse-gas emissions to be rolled back to 1990 levels by 2020. The San Joaquin Valley — arguably the most problematic air basin in the country on top of it being what bipartisan Congressional researchers say is the poorest region — has managed to reduce several major air pollutants back by 50 percent, despite the fact since 1990 the eight-county region has grown by 51.3 percent to 4.3 million people.
The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District has noted that some air quality targets set by the federal and state governments are so high for the region that a complete prohibition of all vehicle movement, trains and operating farm equipment would still not make the goals attainable.
So what does Pavely want to do now? If Senate Bill 32 passes, the entire state — including the San Joaquin Valley — would have to reduce greenhouse gas by 40 percent below 1990 levels.
This might sound do-able along the urbanized coast that long ago chased out most heavy manufacturing, has relatively little farming and is urbanized enough to support mass transit. It is insurmountable, however, for a largely rural farming area like the San Joaquin Valley.
Those who opposed SB32 know what is at stake. Pavely’s latest proposal calls for the state’s poorest people to double down with an obsession with greenhouse gas emissions that looks good on paper but in reality is a questionable and expensive fantasy.
The residents of the San Joaquin Valley know about the need for cleaner air better than most other Californians. Twenty years ago a drive through Bakersfield on Highway 99, even on a relatively brisk winter day, you couldn’t see the Sierra that was less than 20 miles away. Today it is significantly clearer and many issues such as asthma are on the decline.
It sounds good to make the air even cleaner.
But if there was ever a case where the saying “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” applies 100 percent it would be the drive to essentially destroy the San Joaquin Valley in order to save it.
And let’s be clear about this. In order to meet the existing AB32 goal, the San Joaquin Valley will pay a heavy price as its economy doesn’t rely on tech housed in gleaming office complexes or the service/entertainment industries. It relies on farming, trucking, distribution and — what is left of it in California — manufacturing.
Forcing it to go beyond a rollback to 1990 air quality levels is as close to writing a death warrant for a region that Sacramento lawmakers can get.
The added cost of greenhouse gas strategies may not mean much to a code writer in Santa Clara pulling in $180,000 a year plus stock options. But to a farmworker, construction laborer, or a distribution center worker it can cost them their jobs.
The Bay Area as well as Los Angeles-San Diego are set. They are major hubs for the trendy, big money, high profit economic sectors such as tech, finance and entertainment. They are “the places” to be in those sectors so if the cost of doing business and living goes up, people will — and can afford to — pay the price.
That’s not the same for the San Joaquin Valley or the Inland Empire for that matter. The jobs can go elsewhere in the Lower 48 states when the cost of doing business gets out of hand.
It’s always nice to hear lawmakers from Coastal California argue we can’t afford to not have even cleaner air.
So then let’s put some real laws into place to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. For starters the San Joaquin Valley should no longer be the affordable housing solution for the Bay Area nor the Inland Empire for the LA Basin. Make it illegal for coastal cities to create new jobs whether they pay $15 an hour or $250,000 a year unless they also provide housing for the additional workers.
Slap a surcharge on gas and energy purchases in the Bay Area and LA that would be collected and sent to the San Joaquin Valley and Inland Empire for air quality initiatives. If roughly 20 percent of the air pollution in San Joaquin County blows in from the Bay Area, then residents there should on the hook for 20 percent of the cost of cleaning up the air here.
If high speed rail is such an ideal benefactor of greenhouse gas taxes then mandate the same type of tracks be built through the Bay Area and the LA Basin as are being done in the valley instead of just running trains over existing tracks.
After all, we’re supposed to all be in this together, right?