(Courtesy photo)

How best to invest in clean air

By Bill Quinn and Joe Lyou

When the leaders of one of California’s top environmental organizations and one of the state’s most important industry-based organizations can come together and agree on a set of environmental principles, it’s worth noting. Such is the case right now with the Coalition for Clean Air and the California Council for Environmental and Economic Balance.

We are members of the Clean Air Dialogue, a group of California business, government, and environmental leaders. This group recently agreed upon a set of investment principles to help the state create sound air quality incentives to accelerate the transition to zero and near-zero emission transportation.

California is clearly recognized throughout the world as a leader in addressing air pollution and climate change. It does this through a combination of stringent regulations aimed at businesses and other sources of pollution, strong enforcement of those rules, public education, and incentives for things like clean vehicles and equipment. While progress fighting traditional air pollution (smog) has slowed in recent years, the overall results have been impressive. Smog levels are about half of what they were in 1980. Air toxics, like diesel particulate matter, have dropped by more than 80 percent. On the climate front, the state is well on its way to achieve its landmark goals of reducing greenhouse gases by 30 percent by 2020, and 40 percent by 2030.

Work, however, remains. Despite the significant progress made, we find that seven of the nation’s ten most polluted cities are in the Golden State. With climate change, we must set an example on how best to reduce greenhouse gases so that other states, the nation and the world can follow suit. California cannot solve the climate crisis on its own.

Incentive funding is an important tool to address both air pollution and climate change. Through a public process, the California Air Resources Board is now deciding how best to invest more than $500 million in incentive money for air quality improvement and low-carbon transportation programs. This annual funding comes from California’s cap-and-trade auction revenue, paid by the state’s largest sources of greenhouse gases. The next workshop is set for July 17 in Sacramento. The public is invited to attend.

While $500 million is not sufficient to solve all of the issues, it’s a significant sum and we must invest it in ways that achieve the greatest benefit. And, because funding depends on the annual budget negotiations in Sacramento, the governor and legislature must know clean air and combatting climate change are a public priority.

The Clean Air Dialogue has come together with a series of principles that we believe the state should incorporate as it develops its funding options for incentive programs. Two examples of the eight principles that we believe can help guide decision-makers include:

Increased and stable funding over a multi-year timeframe is needed to provide market certainty for consumers, manufacturers, dealers and suppliers of clean transportation and equipment; and a technology neutral approach is needed to achieve emission reductions across a portfolio of technologies and fuels, rather than putting all our eggs in one basket.

Incentive projects push forth new technologies. They stimulate the economy. They provide low- and middle-income families clean vehicle rebates, new bike lanes, safer streets and better transit, and help fund residential solar panels, energy efficiency, and weatherization.

California needs every available tool to clean its air — regulations, enforcement, education, and incentives. That’s why the Clean Air Dialogue developed investment principles that can best be used to complement, not compete with, our environmental standards and rules. These principles can be found at [link to be inserted].

As members of the Clean Air Dialogue who represent different interests, we never hesitate to disagree, but we also see the power and potential of working together as the path forward to a healthy climate and environment for generations to come. Such is the case with the investment principles discussed here.

Bill Quinn is the President and CEO of the California Council for Environmental and Economic Balance (CCEEB), which houses the Clean Air Dialogue. Joe Lyou is the President and CEO of the Coalition for Clean Air (CCA) and a former governing board member of the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

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