When it comes to California’s transportation and climate policy, the world is watching

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“…my zeal has been intensified to a maximum degree.”

- Gov. Brown, speaking at a press conference announcing amendments to SB 350 

Last week, during the state legislature’s final moments in session, California’s ambitious climate protection agenda took a bit of a hit. SB 350, a bill that would have set a goal of reducing our petroleum use by 50%, was dramatically amended to remove this provision. SB 32, a bill that would have extended AB 32 (California’s landmark climate change law) was defeated outright. These bills were put at the top of the kill list by powerful oil lobbyists, who have spent millions of dollars to protect their industry at the expense of Californian’s health and climate.

But, we can find silver linings even amid these disappointments. In the week prior to SB 350’s gutting, Senate President pro tem and the bill’s author, Kevin De León, had included the goal of reducing driving through smarter land use planning as part of the 50% reduction in petroleum use. Additionally, AB 744, Assemblyman Ed Chau (D-Monterey Park)’s bill to update parking regulations for some low income, senior, and special needs housing developments, passed out of the Senate and is headed to the Governor’s desk.

And Governor Brown, in a press conference announcing the changes to SB 350 forced by Big Oil, expressed an even stronger determination to charge ahead with climate protection. In addition to this intensified zeal, the Governor named several administrative actions he intends to take to reduce the state’s climate pollution despite the legislative setbacks.

We are excited by Governor Brown’s zeal to address climate change, and by his willingness to pursue administrative paths to curbing emissions – but what’s most exciting is the potential of the Special Session on Transportation and Infrastructure he initiated this summer.

With this special session, Governor Brown has the opportunity to put his money where his mouth is. He has set the stage for another, immediate opportunity to address climate change and improve community health, safety and equity, with billions of dollars. In fact, this may be the biggest opportunity since the passage of AB 32, which set in motion a whole cascade of world-leading strategies (including investments from cap-and-trade).  

Governor Brown, pro tem De León, Speaker Atkins, and incoming Speaker Rendon should use the special session to immediately address our state’s single largest source of greenhouse gases and air pollution: transportation.  

We can no longer spend transportation dollars exclusively on roads, while we simultaneously set up programs to fight climate change. Transportation improvement and climate protection efforts must be one and the same.

Our current transportation infrastructure forces far too many Californians to rely on driving, at extraordinary cost to themselves and our climate. Our streets and roads are inefficient and gridlocked with people who have no other reliable options for getting to school, work, health care, or even to visit family and friends.   

And we’re buying gas and diesel from the very same companies who spent big to defeat critical, cutting-edge climate protection policies. Our gas money goes straight into Big Oil’s pockets; in turn, they line the pockets of lobbyists to ensure their dirty industry has no competition. It’s a vicious cycle, and even worse when you consider the tens of billions of tax payer dollars that already subsidize oil in California. 

Yet so far, this transportation special session has focused too heavily on creating and maintaining roads. We appreciate the efforts of leaders who have pushed to include transit, biking, and walking into the mix (especially from our great Senators Beall and Allen, and Assemblymen Chiu and Eduardo Garcia), but it has still only been a small part of the overall conversation.

Now, our state leaders need to send a strong signal that California will no longer support policies that leave Californians without real, reliable, and affordable options for getting where they need to go. Legislators can use the special session to increase funding for safer walking and biking, better public transportation, and other programs that improve our safety and health, and reduce our petroleum use.  

Petroleum, and the infrastructure we build around it, is unhealthy, unsafe, expensive, and inefficient - not to mention California’s biggest single contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Ensuring that our transportation funding goes to projects that end our reliance on fossil fuels should be our first priority.

TransForm and our allies at the California Bicycle Coalition, the Safe Routes to School National Partnership, and others have been working to clarify this connection, and many in the Senate and Assembly (like Beall, Allen, Chiu, and Garcia) have stepped up, offering funding for transit maintenance, and directing money to the Active Transportation Program.

This special session should be used to address our complete transportation network for all Californians, and not simply spend more money building a system that forces us to pay Big Oil.

Governor Brown has put California’s climate program on the world stage, explicitly calling on other states and nations to follow our lead in responding to the biggest crisis of our era.  The world is watching to see how our leadership continues to move us forward. Now is the time to act.

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About This Blog

TransForum is the blog of TransForm, California's leading transportation advocate. For more about our work, including ways you can take action and contribute, visit TransFormCA.org.