Southern California environment news and trends

Green is good, as Governor Brown's budget proposal boosts money for environment issues

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CA Gov. Jerry Brownholds up a legislation which he signed authorizing initial construction of California's $68 billion high-speed rail line.

Surging revenue returned a wave of funding to environmental issues in California, as Governor Jerry Brown released his budget Thursday.

It’s a good news kind of year. Maintenance for state parks deferred in lean budget years gets a $40 billion boost this time around. And Brown’s budget anticipates a lean water year, upping investments in water storage, like groundwater aquifers and reservoirs, and regional water self-sufficiency. 

State parks also got a one-time $14 million infusion, welcome news to the California State Parks Foundation

“We hope that it is the beginning of a more stable period for state parks,” said the group’s president, Elizabeth Goldstein, in a release. “We are pleased that this infusion of one-time funding reverses the trend of closures that have characterized the past six years.”

In a significant change, the budget proposal shifts the clean drinking water  program out of the Department of Public Health, and into the State Water Resources Control Board. The move would relocate nearly 300 jobs and $200 million from one state entity to another.

Clean Water Action’s Jennifer Clary told Capital Public Radio that she approved of the idea. “[In the DPH] the drinking water program was a program, within the division under an agency in a department, so it was such a lot of red tape to go through to accomplish things that we just got discouraged.”

But the hot button environmental issue is what happens with $850 million of revenue from carbon credits businesses buy as permission to pollute greenhouse gases into the air – under law, that money’s supposed to go to projects that combat global warming.

Brown says $300 million of those proceeds will go to the state’s controversial high-speed rail project, and to the Department of Transportation.

“And using the money from cap and trade which is the result of deterring greenhouse gases is very appropriate,” Brown said, at a press conference Thursday.

Legal challenges have tied up billions of dollars in bond money that’s the foundation for high-speed rail. The project’s detractors call it a bloated boondoggle, and suggest that money is better spent elsewhere. Brown disagrees.

“Well, the alternative would be not to spend the money. And we do need that money,” said Brown. “And we’re going to spend it.”

A quarter of auction proceeds must go to low-income communities, the ones located next to polluters like refineries. By some accounts, they're getting more than that. The biggest chunk of cap-and-trade money, $350 million, is marked for sustainable communities and low-carbon transportation.

Environmental justice advocates applauded the move. 

“This means we will see investments in solutions such as clean trucks and buses, electric vehicle rebates, zero-emission freight demonstration projects, and enhanced connectivity and modernization for public transit in disadvantaged communities,” writes Environmental Defense Fund’s Erica Morehouse.

Vien Trong and Roman Partida with the Greenlining Institute also heaped praise on the Governor’s plan. Greenlining's part of a group called Charge Ahead that's also supported by Communities for a Better Environment, the Coalition for Clean Air, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and others, is advocating for 1 million electric cars on the road within 10 years.

And Kate Gordon, who runs the Energy & Climate Program at Next Generation, writes that she’s “excited to see the budget’s focus on sustainable communities and low-carbon transportation.”

As California Environmental Protection Agency Secretary Matt Rodriguez pointed out in a press briefing Thursday, 40% of the state’s greenhouse gases come from tailpipes.

“If we can take autos off the road and have Californians use cleaner transportation options then that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” he said. 

 

Within the sustainable communities and clean transportation money, the governor’s plan calls for $100 million for the Strategic Growth Council, a cabinet-level office that helps state and local entities in the planning of sustainable communities and meeting AB 32 goals.

A good chunk of that money would go to the Southern California Association of Governments. Jonathan Parfrey directs Climate Resolve, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit group that works with government agencies to plan for climate change, and he says that’s great news for the region.

“Between that and Proposition 39 money, which will bring another $100 million to schools in Los Angeles, that’s a lot of money coming in to meet our challenges,” he said. 

The rest of the revenue will go to energy efficiency programs, clean energy, natural resource management, and waste diversion, all of which was laid out earlier this year in an investment plan presented to the California Air Resources Board.  

Environmentalists generally are praising Brown's plan for the cap-and-trade money, especially since it includes $100 million borrowed from cap-and-trade revenues last year (some say illegally). That money was used to help cover the shortfall.

State officials say budget plans call for California's general fund to return the rest of that loan over the next several years.

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