Greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere continue to rise to dangerous levels, but still our political leaders delay taking meaningful actions to address the looming crisis. The latest example: Gov. Jerry Brown is borrowing $500 million from the state’s new cap-and-trade program -- money designated specifically for efforts to address climate change -- to help balance the revised state budget proposal that he released today.
And the worst part was that Brown is raiding these funds even though there was no good reason to do so. “The Governor’s Budget reflected California’s most stable fiscal footing in well over a decade,” was the first sentence in the budget document, which admirably begins to restore education funding, partly because voters approved the Prop. 30 tax package last year.
While Brown said that the $500 million raid is just a loan that will be paid back with interest, the action highlights the short-term thinking that animates our political and business leaders, who seem content with hollow gestures and symbolic actions that fall far short of what’s actually needed to minimize climate change and sea level rise (even the cap-and-trade system itself is a business-friendly half-measure; simply capping then decreasing emmissions would have been far more effective).
There are a multitude of immediate needs for that “borrowed” money that would have big impacts to the carbon emmissions that our state continues to spew into the atmosphere, such as helping Muni and other urban transit systems overcome budget deficits that hamper their ability to provide good alternatives to private automobile use, which is one of the top sources of greenhouse gas emmissions.
Environmentalists and advocates for social and economic justice -- who have fought to direct some of these funds to reducing emmissions in low-income communities, where it is an acute public health issue on top of the long-term climate change threat -- immediately criticized the governor’s move.
“The governor is playing a dangerous game that could wreck California’s push toward clean energy,” Greenlining Institute Legal Counsel Ryan Young said in a press release. “Voters of color turned out in force to protect AB 32, the clean energy law, when it was under attack by Prop. 23 [last year’s effort to repeal it], and they did it based on the promise that it would bring clean energy investments to polluted and struggling communities. These are the same voters who provided Jerry Brown's victory margin when he ran for governor. Seizing these funds for other uses will hurt our state’s neediest communities, and it’s simply not necessary.”
Longtime Sierra Club legislative director Bill Magavern, who works with the Coalition for Clean Air, told Capital Weekly that the money is urgently needed for a variety of programs to reduce pollution in communities of color: “These important goals are now shunted aside as broken promises. The Governor has spoken of the urgency of addressing our climate crisis, but he has not put his money where his mouth is. It’s important to remember that none of the dollars in the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund come from taxes, and they were never intended to go to the General Fund.”
Another gauge is also telling: how do the polluters feel about the governor’s new budget? Well, here’s another press release we got on the governor’s new budget, from a conservative business organization that has long opposed meaningful efforts to address climate change: “California Manufacturers & Technology Association president Jack Stewart made the following media statement after Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed ‘May Revise’ budget: ‘We congratulate Gov. Jerry Brown on a proposed balanced budget that will help California provide important government services. We appreciate that the Governor proposes the addition of a statewide sales tax exemption on the purchase of manufacturing equipment. This will make California a more competitive place to scale up production.”
Same as it ever was.