In summary

The clean air ballot initiative is a true California call to action: ambitious and forward-looking, focused on the well-being of all of our communities.

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By Mary Creasman

Mary Creasman is the CEO of California Environmental Voters.

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Joel Barton, Special to CalMatters

Joel Barton is secretary-treasurer of the State Association of Electrical Workers.

California’s cities now routinely have the most toxic air in the United States. Los Angeles, Bakersfield and San Jose make every top-10 list for most polluted air in the country, and Sacramento and Visalia aren’t far behind. 

According to the American Lung Association, air pollution endangers the health and lives of 38 million Californians out of a population of 39 million – nearly every one of us.

At the same time, Californians are on the front line of the devastating impacts of the climate crisis. Catastrophic wildfires, drought and extreme weather are costing us precious lives, destroying property, damaging the state’s natural beauty, inflicting losses on our economy, imperiling our future and – in a vicious cycle – spewing even more pollution into the air.

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Air pollution impacts nearly all of us, but low-income communities of color experience its most severe effects, bearing the brunt of this public health hazard. The disparities include greater susceptibility to respiratory infection, a correlation that has been stark in the past two years, when studies have shown a higher incidence of COVID-19 in communities with poorer air quality. In some areas of California, pollution-related death rates can be as much as 30 times higher than in others. 

To solve this crisis, California Environmental Voters and the State Association of Electrical Workers have joined other leading environmental, labor and business groups to form Clean Air California, a coalition aimed at ensuring a blue sky future for the next generation of Californians: clean air, fewer extreme wildfires and a healthy home to live, work, play and breathe.

We are advancing a November 2022 ballot initiative – the Clean Cars and Clean Air Act – to restore clean air to California by dramatically reducing emissions from our two largest sources of air pollution: transportation and wildfires.  

California suffers from two types of air pollution – ozone pollution and particulate pollution. The transportation sector is the largest source of the former, and soot from wildfires blankets us with the latter on a regular basis. High levels of either pollutant are linked to respiratory illness, heart disease and mortality, but Californians are increasingly being subjected to both – in tandem. 

Air pollution drives climate change; climate change drives wildfires; wildfires create more air pollution. We must act now to address the root causes of this vicious cycle and to reduce its impacts on our lives, or things will get worse.  

In fact, as our fire season lengthens and wildfires escalate, their ferocity is undermining the progress the state has made in fighting air pollution. In 2020, California wildfires burned almost 4.2 million acres, killed 31 people, and expelled as much carbon dioxide into the air as tens of millions of passenger vehicles do in a year. 

The double threat fouling California’s air constitutes an urgent public health emergency that requires immediate and significant investment to prevent and fight wildfires, and accelerate the adoption of zero-emission vehicles across the state. 

The Clean Cars and Clean Air Act will generate funding to train and hire state firefighters, improve fire prevention and safety infrastructure in at-risk communities, and expand wildfire detection and monitoring systems. It will also provide consumer subsidies to make electric vehicles more affordable and accessible, particularly to low- and middle-income Californians. Finally, it will develop zero-emission vehicle charging infrastructure in residential, commercial and public spaces so that driving a ZEV is as convenient as driving a gas-powered car. 

This critical investment to restore California’s clean air will be paid for by an increase in personal income taxes of 1.75% on income over $2 million – a progressive revenue source that ensures the costs are borne by those most able to afford it.  

This clear air ballot initiative is a true California call to action: powerful, ambitious and forward-looking, focused on the health and well-being of all of our communities and our magnificent state. We invite you to join us in supporting this crucial investment in our collective future. 


Mary Creasman has also written about how redistricting will help determine how California deals with the climate crisis, how California rates on climate action, how do we achieve real change after elections, and a new era of clean transportation requires new leadership on the Assembly’s Transportation Committee.

Joel Barton has also written about investment in clean transportation and jobs is vital to economic recovery.

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