Viewpoints: Livable communities at stake if fuels aren’t in cap and trade

An important environmental debate right now centers on whether transportation fuels should remain part of the cap-and-trade program under California’s climate change law.

At stake is our future: Will it be one where we build sustainable neighborhoods, with access to transit, bike and pedestrian paths, and local services? Or will we continue to subsidize the oil and gas industry, which has shown disdain for this kind of sustainable development? Given their way, oil companies would force Californians to remain tethered to the automobile as our only means of transportation for trips to work, shopping, education and recreation.

Assembly Bill 69 seeks to reverse California’s sustainable direction. Assemblyman Henry Perea of Fresno introduced it to delay the inclusion of fuels under cap and trade, arguing that it will raise gas prices and hurt his working class constituents in the San Joaquin Valley.

Perea is a fine legislator who is unfortunately looking in the rear view mirror instead of forward. First, the price increases would be barely noticeable. An analysis by the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business found that it would likely be 9 to 10 cents per gallon, easily offset through simple measures such as driving 70 mph instead of 72 mph on the freeway and keeping tires properly inflated. Or the oil and gas industry could simply be accountable and absorb those increases, only reducing their nearly $200 billion in annual profits by what amounts to one or two less corporate jets.

More importantly, Perea is missing a healthier potential for his own region.

As a developer committed to sustainable communities, my company is working with the city of Reedley in Fresno County on the mixed-use Kings River Village community. This walkable and bicycle-friendly neighborhood features medical facilities, offices and shops for its market-rate and affordable housing. It includes solar energy, recycled stormwater, a farmers market, community garden and a full-service transit center integrated into Fresno County Transit Agency bus routes. Residents and visitors will have excellent transit access to key locations within Reedley, neighboring cities and Fresno itself, including Fresno State and the Amtrak station.

Projects such as Kings River Village represent the future of the Central Valley. Consumers increasingly demand them, and more reliable, safe and affordable transit is coming to serve them. California’s pollution-fighting land use laws, such as SB 375, direct transportation investments away from sprawl and toward existing neighborhoods in our cities and towns. And the sale of pollution credits will help fund this shift, leading to healthier communities and more preservation of prime farmlands. AB 69 would undermine that revenue stream, harming the very constituents that Perea and other bill advocates seek to protect.

AB 69 should die a quick and deserved death in the Legislature, much as the oil and gas industry’s attempt to kill the climate change law failed in 2010 with the defeat of Proposition 23, and as the state Senate on Thursday blocked a Republican proposal to exempt fuels from cap and trade.

Californians know how distressed the state would become if bottom-line corporate interests have their way. You can bet those millions of lobbying dollars didn’t come from investors – but from the pockets of hard-working Californians the oil companies are now shilling as the “victims” of the climate change law.

California remains an optimistic, forward-thinking society that knows change is inevitable and needs to be managed toward sustainable outcomes. AB 69 seeks to reverse that progress. We should urge our legislators to vote against it and ensure that California continues to lead the way toward healthier communities for its people and its environment.