Help is on the way for California’s air and climate

Los Angeles, after a storm has passed through. (Photo: kjarrett, via Shutterstock)

What do the election results mean for Californians facing the worst air pollution in the country and catastrophic impacts of climate change?

Californians will literally breathe easier when Joe Biden and Kamala Harris take office in January. While the results of other races were mixed, the stark contrast between President Trump’s “Make Our Air Dirty Again” record and Biden’s promising green agenda made control of the presidency the decisive factor in our environmental outlook for the next four years.

Since 2017,  Californians have seen our clean car standards blocked by an oil-hugging U.S. EPA, while our requests for federal help in reducing diesel exhaust from trucks and trains have gone unheeded and our lands have been opened up for drilling. Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris accord and denial of global warming’s impact on the devastating wildfires, heat waves and drought besetting our state have set back efforts to stabilize the climate.

Top priority should be given to restoring California’s authority to require cleaner cars and ending the leasing of federal lands for fossil-fuel extraction.

Biden’s plan to invest $2 trillion in fighting climate change hinges largely on who controls the Senate, which will not be known until after the Georgia run-offs.

But he can rejoin every other country in the world in the global climate collaboration immediately after taking office, and his agencies can begin the task of undoing the many Trump rollbacks of environmental safeguards and then moving forward on the protections that Americans want for our air, water and land.

Top priority should be given to restoring California’s authority to require cleaner cars and ending the leasing of federal lands for fossil-fuel extraction. Then, Biden should move quickly to ramp up deployment of electric vehicles and charging infrastructure, and to tighten emission standards for heavy-duty trucks and locomotives that carry goods across the country.

Californians have good reason to believe that our needs will find sympathetic ears in the nation’s capitol with Vice-President-elect Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in power. Many Californians, including environmental champions Xavier Becerra, the state Attorney General, and Mary Nichols, who chairs the Air Resources Board, are believed to be in contention for Cabinet positions.

So the federal government will go from being an obstacle to a collaborator for California’s efforts to clean up our air and atmosphere, efforts that were intensified this fall by Gov. Newsom’s visionary executive orders.

Results of state elections did not do much to change the status quo. Proposition 16 would have made it easier to enact environmental justice policies, but it failed to pass. The state senate may become somewhat greener with the turnover of seats in Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley, and some incoming Assemblymembers appear to be potential environmental leaders.

Local elections trended in a green direction in many areas.

Measure US, which was passed by the voters of Long Beach, will raise the city’s oil production tax to fund local climate and environmental, community health, job training and youth initiatives. San Diego elected Assemblymember Todd Gloria, a strong backer of clean air and climate action, to be its next Mayor. And state Sen. Holly Mitchell, who has an excellent environmental record, won a seat on the powerful Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

Editor’s Note: 
Bill Magavern is policy director of the Coalition for Clean Air.

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