When I was California Assembly Speaker in 2006, I proudly negotiated with Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to lay down a marker in the fight against climate change by placing strict reductions on greenhouse gas emissions through Assembly Bill 32.
We knew we had to do something, especially after the U.S. pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol.
AB 32 gave the California Air Resources Board the ability to create a system in which polluters had to pay if they were unable to directly reduce their emissions. This first-ever cap-and-trade system has become instrumental to California’s economy.
Payments by polluters generate much-needed funds to clean up our environment and make California the leader in renewable energy that it is today.
California has made great strides with investments from our cap-and-trade revenue, including massive efforts to get more electric vehicles on our roads and improving the environment of our poorest communities, all while reducing our greenhouse gas emissions at a historic rate.
Unfortunately, some of this important progress may be threatened by diversions of cap-and-trade funds for investments that are barely related to the original intent of AB 32.
The last thing our state and the planet can afford is for cap-and-trade funds to be turned into a slush fund for pet projects that do little or nothing to improve our environment.
Over the years, we have seen standards weakened on the original cap-and-trade deal as it relates to what qualifies for appropriate spending of these dollars and there are now efforts underway to even further destabilize this critically important funding source, and it is causing great alarm for those of us who fought so hard for this program.
By allowing these funds to be used on unrelated projects we will never meet our greenhouse gas reduction goals or truly address the devastating impacts of climate change.
Clean drinking water, high-speed rail, and workforce training are critical to California’s future. But it is more appropriate to invest in these areas from the state’s general fund and not from the cap-and-trade revenue.
I urge the Legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom to not allow diversions to continue, and to be the environmental stewards they have been throughout their political careers.
California has led the fight on climate change. We are now seeing much of the rest of the country follow. All of the top Democratic presidential candidates are making the fight against climate change a cornerstone of their campaigns.
Our cap-and-trade system is our strongest tool in fixing this existential threat. We must not let it rust away in the toolbox. It is imperative that we not cheapen the world-class program we all worked so hard to create over a decade ago.
Fabian Núñez is former California Assembly Speaker and co-author of AB 32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act, [email protected]. He wrote this commentary for CALmatters.