FRESNO, CA --Cap-and-trade is now the law of the land: Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed legislation extending it until 2030. The legislation, first signed under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s administration, charges industries emission fines,and uses the money to fund green projects. It also sets a cap on greenhouse gas emissions, and if companies go over the cap, the law gets more restrictive each year. The trade portion allows companies to seek allowances that permit them to emit only certain amounts of pollutants.
The state plans to spend millions in cap-and-trade funds over the next three years. The project will be overseen by the Transformative Climate Communities Program (TCCP), which plans to spend at least $70 million in Fresno, $35 million in Los Angeles and $35 million in a third location.
However, there has been some debate over where and how the money will be spent in Fresno, which has been ranked as California’s most polluted city. Several Fresno residents voiced their opinions at a recent town hall meeting.
Many of the residents who attended the meeting felt the money needed to be spent in Southwest Fresno, which has historically been a disadvantaged area.
Veronica Garibay, co-founder and co-director of the Leadership Counsel for Justice, said the funding could change the direction of Southwest Fresno.
“This is an opportunity to use up to $70 million to have a catalytic impact on Southwest Fresno,” said Garibay.
Although there are a lot of suggestions on how the money should be spent, such as affordable housing, parks and mass transit projects, Randall Winston, executive director of the Strategic Growth Council, said any project has to be designed around the goal of reducing greenhouse emissions. Currently any project funded by cap-and-trade money has to be within one mile of a high-speed rail station, he said.
Chris Finley, a lifelong Fresno resident, has watched the city grow to a population of 500,000. But Southwest Fresno has a history of neglect. According to Finley, the area suffers from several problems such as poverty, unemployment and crime.
Finley said that even when the federal government tried to improve the area with block grants, the money ended up being diverted to other areas. According to several news reports, the city has a history of corruption with a local developer and city council men indicted for bribery. San Francisco Gate reported that developer John Bonadelle pled guilty to mail fraud and had to pay $300,000 in fines and restitution. He also served nine months in a halfway house.
Finley has the same fears about the cap-and-trade money.
“That’s the fear, that it’s going to be misdirected,” said Finley. "Southwest Fresno is also faced with another problem, lack of political involvement."
Finley says the area has the lowest voter turnout in the county.
He added that politicians tend to pay attention to people who vote, and if the people of Southwest Fresno don’t get involved in the process, they won’t benefit when state money is distributed.
State Sen. Andy Vidak (R-Hanford) represents the Fresno area. He was not available for comment but in a video posted on his website, he argued against AB 398, which extended cap-and-trade.
“I cannot, in good conscience, vote for yet another bill that will raise gasoline and electricity rates on the poorest of the poor,” said Vidak. “Let’s be honest, this is a tax – and a regressive one at that! Then where does the money go? It goes to rebates for rich folks who buy a Tesla. Billions go to the boondoggle that is High-Speed Rail, which is a gross polluter, now and for decades to come – again, off of the backs of the poor who currently live in energy poverty.”
Dave Clegern, public information officer, for the California Air Resources Board, said he was not aware of Fresno’s past corruption issues, but he was confident that the cap-and-trade money will be carefully overseen.
“Money for California Climate Investments (cap-and-trade proceeds) is appropriated by the legislature for projects approved by state agencies,” he said. “But that money is paid out on a reimbursement basis, in other words no money goes out until the administering agency and the state Controller’s Office have seen the local invoices for work done, materials used, etc. There are no blank checks for incomplete or speculative projects.”
The Fresno Metro Black Chamber of Commerce is having their monthly FAACE breakfast, Wednesday morning, Aug. 9th at 7:30 AM with presentations from the Central Valley Community Foundation and the California Association of Councils of Governments where attendees will get more information about the TCCP proposal process. Interested parties can register here.