In summary

Assembly Transportation Committee Chair Jim Frazier has obstructed progress in moving toward clean transportation.

By Mary Creasman, Special to CalMatters

Mary Creasman is CEO of the California League of Conservation Voters, mary@ecovote.org.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s announcement that California will eliminate the sale of gas powered cars by 2035 is finally jumpstarting the big transportation changes necessary to fight against the climate crisis. 

The transportation sector accounts for 40% of California’s total emissions that cause climate change, and yet California hasn’t made any big strides in this sector legislatively. So why are we behind?

Past efforts to move toward cleaner transportation have been stalled primarily by one legislator and one committee. Assembly Transportation Committee Chair Jim Frazier, a Democrat who represents portions of Solano and Contra Costa counties, has used his committee to stop the very progress that Newsom now has to mandate by executive order.

In 2019, Assemblymember Phil Ting, introduced a bill that would have required the California Air Resources Board to develop a comprehensive strategy to fully transition cars to zero-emission by 2040, very similar to today’s goal. But Frazier first tried to weaken the bill with amendments, and then refused to give it a hearing. 

Frazier also slowed efforts to recognize Gov. Jerry Brown’s goal of putting 5 million electric cars on the road by 2030. He worked to change bills intended to put electric cars on the road and instead pushed for carbon-emitting natural gas vehicles. 

His track record of obstructing progress is putting our future at risk.

We need change in other areas of transportation as well, including expanding public transportation and making it more affordable, cleaning up the huge emissions from trucking and heavy transport, increasing active transportation infrastructure and opportunities for short trips, and making clean cars more affordable for every Californian. 

These solutions also have the added benefit of creating jobs, protecting public health and advancing racial justice and equity – and they require legislative leadership. But it’s hard to imagine a pathway to progress with the current composition of the transportation committee. 

Just this year, in “response” to the COVID-19 pandemic, Frazier asked the California Air Resources Board to suspend all proposed air quality regulations until 2021 – the exact wrong thing to do, especially considering that there is emerging evidence that exposure to air pollution may increase the likelihood of both being infected with and dying from the coronavirus.

Frazier’s positions blocking clean energy progress aren’t surprising when we look more closely at his personal finances and campaign cash. An analysis of Frazier’s financial disclosure statements going back to 2012 reveals he has held more than $1 million in Chevron stock. And campaign records show that since taking office in 2012, Frazier has received $91,375 in direct contributions from oil companies, which is in addition to more than $8,000 in gifts reported from the oil industry and related policy organizations.

Every Californian is feeling the serious and scary impacts of this crisis through wildfires, toxic air, extreme heat, power outages and more. What’s heartbreaking is how preventable this all is, because we have the solutions to transition our transportation, economy and more. Newsom’s recent actions on transportation are a strong step forward, but they aren’t enough.

Science tells us we have to do more, and more quickly, and these are merely goals – to quote Newsom “goals are dreams without a plan.” The Legislature needs to help with that plan, but the man chairing the committee we are relying on to lead the way has been carrying water for the Oil and Gas industry. The move toward clean transportation – to realizing all that opportunity to reduce pollution and stop the crisis from becoming worse – requires quick and aggressive  support from the Legislature, government agencies and the public.

This new era calls for new leadership. It’s time for the Assembly Democratic Caucus and leadership to step up and make changes, removing Frazier and replacing any members of the Transportation Committee who won’t work to protect our collective future. With those much needed changes to our government, we can seize this moment for a cleaner, safer, healthier and more equitable future for all.

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