Report: Fresno, Valley rank No. 1 in U.S. for polluted air – receives failing ‘F’ grades

Fresno and surrounding central San Joaquin Valley cities are at the top of a U.S. ranking for being the most polluted American cities, according to an annual report released Tuesday night by the American Lung Association.

California counties in the Valley region to receive a failing “F” grade in the State of the Air 2019 report include Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, Mariposa, Merced and Tulare.

Will Barrett, director of clean air advocacy for the American Lung Association in California, said during a Tuesday news conference that progress has been slower in the Valley than other parts of the state in addressing air pollution.

John Balmes, a UC San Francisco professor and member of the California Air Resources Board, said Valley residents need to keep San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District board members’ “feet to the fire” to mitigate air pollution issues.

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Hanford takes steps in Community Choice Aggregation plan

HANFORD — The Hanford City Council had a full agenda for its meeting Tuesday night, which included discussions on Community Choice Aggregation and a new playground at Lacey Park.

Community Choice Aggregation

In December 2018, Council adopted an ordinance that established a Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) program and approved an implementation plan and statement of intent.

Community Choice Aggregation, signed into law in 2002, grants California cities the right to combine the electricity load of its residents and businesses into a community-wide electricity aggregation program.

Right now, most of Hanford is served by Southern California Edison and the Industrial Park is served by Pacific Gas & Electric.

Under a Community Choice Aggregation program, the incumbent utility — Southern California Edison or PG&E — continues to be responsible for electricity delivery and transmission, owning and maintaining the power and transmission infrastructure, reading the meter, and billing and collecting from customers.

The only change under a CCA program is that power consumed by customers is purchased by the Community Choice Aggregation, with the revenues collected staying in the city to benefit the citizens and businesses.

Under a CCA, Hanford customers could receive and increased opportunity to choose the type of electricity they prefer to come into their home, like renewable energy or a lower-cost option. In addition to the financial benefits, Community Choice Aggregation structure results in the Hanford City Council having full control of rate setting, budget approval, policy setting and program direction.

An additional fund would be established in the city’s budget and operate like the water or sewer fund, with reserves that would not affect the general fund.

Barbara Boswell of California Choice Energy Authority, a joint powers authority, gave an update presentation to Council Tuesday night.

The start-up cost for the program would be about $541,000. Over 5 years, Boswell said estimates indicate that Hanford could accumulate around 10 million in net surplus and reserves. On the agenda for Council consideration was to:

  1. Approve $100,000 Community Choice Aggregation bond payment to the California Public Utilities Commission;
  2. Authorize and direct staff to enter into a Community Choice Aggregation Service Agreement with Southern California Edison;
  3. Authorize and direct staff to enter into an agreement with California Choice Energy Authority for Community Choice Aggregation Implementation Services in an amount not to exceed $160,000;
  4. Approve 2018 Renewables Portfolio Standard Procurement Plan and Authorize City Manager to sign and submit on behalf of Hanford.

After some discussion, Council voted 3-1, with Vice Mayor John Draxler absent, to approve the above recommendations. Councilman Art Brieno, who said he needed more time to research the issue, was the only “no” vote.

Due to the many steps involved, if the council continues to pursue the option — which they are not obligated to do should priorities change — anticipated implementation is not expected until September 2020 or later.

If the city eventually does go through with the program, Hanford customers who wish to stay with the incumbent utility provider have the ability to opt out of the Community Choice Aggregation.

At the May 7 City Council meeting, CalChoice will bring forward an updated CCA financial proforma and implementation timeline. Boswell said she will be back many more times over the next several months as things progress.

Lacey Park

Council unanimously approved the purchase of a new playground structure at Lacey Park. The structure is for kids ages 5-12 years old

The Parks and Recreation Department applied for and received $156,000 in Community Development Block Grant funding in November 2018.

Parks Superintendent Alvin Dias said this is the second year the department has obtained CDBG funding to make improvements at Lacey Park. Last year, the playground for 2-5-year-olds was replaced.

The all new playground structure, which will include ample shade and even a zip line, will be created by NSP3 and the entire project will cost $149,980.

Dias said the goal is for the structure to be ready by June 1.

More from Council

Council awarded a bid for the 13th Avenue and Grangeville Boulevard traffic signal project. The project will also include widening the roadway south of the intersection to match what is currently in front of Sierra Pacific High School, curb and gutter and water main extension.

Public Works Director Lou Camara said work will begin right after school is out and continue for 120 days. He said there will be some construction when school back, but hopefully roadway construction will be complete at that time.

 

Hanford takes steps in Community Choice Aggregation plan, by Julissa Zavala, Hanford Sentinel, April 18, 2019.

Cows, almonds and asthma: San Joaquin Valley’s agriculture and air issues

Excerpted from “CHOKED: Life and Breath in the Age of Air Pollution,” (University of Chicago Press, 2019) by Beth Gardiner.

Highway 99 cuts down the middle of the San Joaquin Valley, hot and dusty. The trucks that ceaselessly crowd this road hurtle by, or ride close on my tail, as I drive a behemoth of an old borrowed car southward, past billboards and motels and fast-food places. To the right, the Diablo Range spikes high into the sky, its peaks rising steeply from an utterly flat valley floor. On my left tower the majestic Sierra Nevada. In the parched strip of land wedged between the two ranges — home to impoverished immigrants and the vast agricultural concerns for whom they pick peaches and tomatoes and pistachios — the sun beats down relentlessly.

The highway is lined with the hulking architecture of industry. But it looks like no industry I’ve seen before. Between the stretches of open fields, cylindrical tanks, some of them four or five stories high, cluster together, pipes winding along their tops. Farther back, beneath white roofs held up by metal poles, cows cluster by the hundreds on concrete platforms.

This is industrial-scale agriculture — factory farming to its critics, or just Ag to locals. The San Joaquin forms the bulk of California’s vast Central Valley, one of the world’s most fertile and productive farming regions, providing a quarter of the food Americans eat. The hulking structures here on 99 process the corn and soy shipped from the Midwest into cattle feed, dehydrate milk for export to China and ready the crops grown in nearby fields for shipment far and wide.

But the San Joaquin Valley’s agricultural productivity isn’t the only quality that earns it superlatives. This is the worst air in America. The region’s cities and towns consistently dominate the American Lung Association’s particle pollution rankings, and only Los Angeles beats it for ozone.

The crisis here shatters notions that dirty air is only an urban problem.

I get off Highway 99 at an exit marked Shafter, and soon I pull up to Tom Frantz’s ranch house, surrounded by almond fields. He’s a lifelong gadfly, a relentless litigant and activist, head of a group he co-founded, the quirkily named Association of Irritated Residents, or AIR.

Here in Kern County, Frantz tells me, every square mile is home to thousands of cows. “They’re wall to wall, almost.” Nearly a half million live in nearby Tulare County.

Frantz pulls up a satellite map that offers powerful evidence of their impact. It shows a yellow-orange circle centered over Highway 99, the color a warning of high levels of methane, the main ingredient in natural gas. It floats off big lagoons of manure. Methane is a potent driver of climate change, so these huge concentrations of cattle pose a threat not just to their neighbors, but to the planet’s very future.

Ammonia wafts off those manure lagoons, too, and from fertilizer in the fields; it combines with other pollutants, including nitrogen oxides (known as NOx) from vehicles, to create tiny, deadly airborne particles.

Frantz clears up something that’s been puzzling me. Dotted all around the Valley are huge piles — hills, really — as tall as houses and hundreds of feet long. They’re covered with white plastic tarpaulins, and I’ve been trying to fathom what’s underneath. Frantz explains they’re heaps of silage, fermenting green maize or other fodder for cattle. These odd-looking mounds add their own taint to the air here. When the tarps are lifted, gases called volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, escape, then combine with NOx in the air to form ozone.

The smell can be oppressive for those who live near the dairies, but the effects of the Valley’s terrible air reach well beyond those who live next to big farms. The region’s premature birth rates are among the highest in the state (PDF). At the other end of life, “I’ve watched people die prematurely. I will die prematurely living here in Kern County all my life,” Frantz says matter-of-factly. Then there’s the quality of life: “You’re sick a lot.” He and his father both developed asthma as adults, and so did his brother-in-law.

Eventually, we head outside, and into Frantz’s pickup truck. The mega-dairies I see through its windows are relative newcomers. “None of those were here in 1990,” Frantz says. While the Valley’s fertile soil has long made it hospitable to growers, it was only as property values around L.A. began to skyrocket that the owners of that region’s big milk operations sold up and moved to Tulare and Kern counties.

As we pass one huge farm, Frantz estimates its permit covers 3,500 milking cows, which means that with calves and heifers and animals rotating through resting periods, there could be as many as 7,000 head in total. There’s another dairy, of similar size, right across the street.

Soon, we bump onto a dirt road and get out beside a huge rectangular lagoon, filled with manure. Dealing with vast amounts of excrement is the biggest challenge facing these farms, which are known in the industry as concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs. In a more traditional, smaller-scale operation, manure becomes fertilizer, a rich source of nitrogen that nourishes feed crops, its nutrients moving from animal to soil to plant in an eons-old cycle. But with so many animals on so little land, there’s far more manure than the soil can absorb, and much of the feed, in any case, is shipped in from afar.

American companies invented this style of agribusiness, and it has reached its apotheosis here in the San Joaquin Valley: “The most industrialized farming in the history of man,” says local author Mark Arax
. The scale is hard to fathom — a million acres of almond trees; a single company that, every week, grows enough carrots to circle the globe.

Such intensive production has changed, in just a generation, our relationship with the land we live on and the food we eat. It’s helped — through its heavy use of fertilizers, pesticides and the medications necessary to prevent disease in animals living cheek by jowl — to drive the terrifying growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, the dwindling of insect populations, the impoverishment of soil.

And, as I now understand, it is also a major contributor to air pollution, not only here but around the world. Agriculture, I’m shocked to learn, is responsible for about half the man-made air pollution in America and even more — 55 percent — in Europe. In much of Europe and the eastern United States, it’s the largest single cause of air pollution–linked deaths.

As we head back toward Frantz’s house, I notice white wooden boxes scattered around the dusty almond groves. They hold beehives trucked in from across the country, the only way to meet the demand for pollination that will come all at once, in a few weeks’ time, when these trees begin to blossom. It’s known as the planet’s greatest annual “pollination event,” and the millions of rented, out-of-town bees — stressed by travel, exposed as they work to alien microbes and parasites — are as vivid a sign as any of the ways this intensive, modern kind of farming has warped nature’s rhythms, and placed living creatures under extraordinary pressure, all in an effort to wring maximum productivity from every inch of land, and every dollar put into it.

 

Cows, almonds and asthma: San Joaquin Valley’s agriculture and air issues, by Beth Gardiner, GreenBiz, April 13, 2019.

Rural Electric Co-ops Dive Into Gas-Killing Solar Panels + Farmland Fray

Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy legislative session over in the great state of Michigan, where policy makers are considering the idea that putting solar panels on farmland is a good thing. If the state does relax its restrictions, look for other US states to amp up the solar power rush.

If that doesn’t give natural gas stakeholders the willies, it should. A good hunk of US farmland comes under the umbrella of rural electric co-operatives.

RECs are a creation of the 1930s New Deal, aimed at lighting up rural households back when the majority of farmers had no electricity. RECs are beginning to push coal power aside in favor of renewables, and now it looks like gas is the next fossil fuel shoe to drop.

What’s All This About Solar Panels On Farmland?

At first glance it totally makes no sense to pull good farmland out of production for the sake of energy development. Well, glance again. With careful site selection and design, solar panels can provide overall benefits to the US agriculture profile in addition to clean power.

Here in the US, researchers are compiling a body of evidence that solar panels can double as valuable grazing areas and pollinator habitats, while conserving water and soil.

They can also result in increased yields for some crops, partly because they provide shade during the hottest parts of the day.

That cooling thing works both ways. PV technology is more efficient at converting sunlight into electricity in cooler weather, and plant growth around the solar panels helps provide a cooling effect.

On top of all that, solar arrays provide a reliable revenue stream for farmers, who could certainly use the relief in today’s hyper-stressed environment.

Solar Panels Pushing Aside Gas, Eventually

As in other states, Michigan has an open space preservation policy that limits the use of farmland for non-agricultural purposes.

Open space preservation in Michigan comes with a carrot in the form of tax credits. It also comes with a big, fat stick. Farmers who take land out of the program forfeit their credit and have to pay back seven additional years of credit.

The state has already carved out an exemption for wind turbines, based on their relatively small footprint. Solar panels could join the club if solar advocates can show that farming can coexist with PV arrays, too.

Meanwhile, a couple of developments involving RECs in other states bode ill for natural gas stakeholders.

Our friend over at Energy News Network report that four RECs in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois are experimenting with home energy storage for their customers.

Energy storage is source neutral, which means that fossil power can come into play. However, this particular project also includes a solar power element.

Another REC project in Minnesota involves one of our new favorite topics, solar-wind hybrids.

The Minnesota project is the first of its kind to cut costs by funneling electricity from the solar panels through the wind equipment.

That’s important because the peak output of solar panels and wind turbines occurs at different times, which provides an opportunity to cut costs by reducing the need for energy storage facilities (the fancyspeak word for that is complementarity, btw).

Rural Electric Cooperatives: Think Local, Act Local

Circling back around to that thing about solar power and farmland, the Michigan Electric Cooperative Association lists 9 member cooperatives serving 750,000 ratepayers in the state.

It’s a pretty good bet that MECA members are looking next door at the fresh burst of renewable energy activity in Wisconsin, which until recently was an epicenter of fossil fuel advocacy.

How times have changed. An REC in Wisconsin called Dairyland is all excited about a new utility scale array of solar panels that will provide agricultural benefits:

The site will feature grass and seed mixes below panels and within the site that will help build soil nutrients and reduce fertilizer, herbicide and pesticide use.

The facility will create pollinator habitat as well as possible opportunities for grazing.

Reduced stormwater runoff and soil erosion from the land hosting solar panels can improve downstream water quality.

Do tell! That’s just one of more than a dozen solar-plus-pollinator sites in Dairyland’s portfolio, btw.

Dairyland is still looking to increase its natural gas portfolio, at least for now. However, the big picture does not look so good for fossil stakeholders. Dairyland is part of a sprawling network of electricity buyers under the Touchstone umbrella, and Touchstone has this to say about the future of RECs:

As a not-for-profit entity, members know they can trust their electric co-op, because it was created to deliver on the promise of providing safe, reliable and affordable electricity to members – not to generate money for shareholders.

With safe, low cost alternatives popping up all over the place it’s difficult to see how natural gas, let alone coal, can maintain a foothold in the REC landscape much longer.

Also there’s this: Touchstone’s network consists of 450 local members in 46 states, which essentially makes it the largest utility in the US.

Stay tuned, CleanTechnica is reaching out to Dairyland for more insights on lessons learned about putting solar panels on farms.

Follow me on Twitter.

 

Rural Electric Co-ops Dive Into Gas-Killing Solar Panels + Farmland Fray, by Tina Casey, Clean Technica, April 15, 2019.

University of the Pacific ranked in top 5 nationwide for renewable energy fleet

STOCKTON — University of the Pacific ranked fourth among the top five schools with the highest percentage of campus-owned vehicles that are 100 percent electric, according to a survey by the Environment America Research and Policy Center.

Pacific checked in at 73.9 percent behind No. 1 Ringling College of Art and Design in Florida at 85.4 percent, California State University, San Marcos, at 78.9 and Rice University in Texas at 75.8. Harvey Mudd College in Claremont was fifth at 73.1.

The center looked at five different areas to track the move to renewable energy on the part of colleges and universities.

Southwestern University (Texas) ranked first in most renewable electricity; the University of Minnesota, Morris, was first in renewable electricity on campus; George Washington University in Washington, D.C., was first in most renewable electricity purchased from off-campus sources; and Colgate University in New York ranked first in most renewable heating, cooling, hot water and other non-electric energy.

“The colleges and universities leading the rankings are at the top of the class when it comes to tackling climate change and transitioning to clean, renewable energy sources,” Bronte Payne, Environment America’s 100% Renewable Campuses Campaign director, said in a statement. “Future and current students care deeply about the role higher education is playing in the fight against climate change. With this report, they now have valuable data regarding which colleges and universities are leading the charge to a renewable energy future.”

The report comes months after the University of California system announced a shift to using only renewable sources for its electricity by 2025, and, starting in June, its 10 campuses will also require new buildings to run on non-fossil fuel power. University of California, Berkeley just committed to getting all of its energy — electricity, heating and cooling and transportation — from renewable sources by 2050.

Municipalities Taking Another Look At Community Choice Energy

With Pacific Gas & Electric Co. filing for bankruptcy protection in wake of its wildfire liability issues, and more attention being paid to the environment, energy is at the top of many minds these days.

Some cities and counties in the state, including some in the Central Valley, are once again exploring Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) — an alternative to investor owned utility energy supply systems that allow local governments to obtain power for their residents, businesses and municipal accounts from alternative suppliers, but still receive transmission and distribution service from their existing utility provider. CCA was signed into law in 2002.

PG&E’s recent controversy has left more consumers and municipalities exploring alternative power, and CCAs are marketed as an option for communities that want more local control over electricity sources, more green power and lower electricity prices.

In California there are 19 community choice agencies that are operational in more than 160 cities serving 8 million customers.

In November 2018, the Hanford City Council voted to start the process of establishing a program plan and statement of intent, and a technical study has already been conducted.

Hanford is on schedule to launch its service around this time next year, and is the furthest along in the Central Valley with its program. Hanford has a completed implementation plan and is working with the California Choice Energy Authority to complete the project.

There is usually a delay in implementation for resource adequacy, a regulatory construct that ensures there will be sufficient resources available to serve electricity demand, and because of the handoff from PG&E to the community choice agency responsible for the procurement.

“Its actually kind of a good thing because it gives us an extra chunk of time to make the community aware of it, go to community meetings, work out bugs, and it allows for more time to communicate with the residents and citizens about the program,” said Woody Hastings, energy program manager for the Center for Climate Protection.

 

Early efforts

Founded in 2001, the Center for Climate Protection is a non-profit organization based in Santa Rosa with a mission to identify policies and programs that reduce greenhouse gas emissions that also have local economic benefits that are replicable. Community choice energy is an example of such a policy.

There were efforts early on in the Central Valley to bring a CCA into the area, led by the Kings River Conservation District from 2006 to 2008 that included cities in Fresno County, Kings County and Tulare County.

That plan failed because of the economic downturn, as well as obstruction efforts by PG&E, according to organizers.

 

Fresno’s choice.

In February, a workshop regarding community choice energy was presented to the Fresno City Council by Hastings, Hanford City Manager Darrel Pyle, Mike Dozier with the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley and Destiny Rodriguez with the Center for Climate Protection.

Hastings said that council members present at the meeting showed avid interest in pursuing aggregation.

PG&E would still own, maintain, and operate the infrastructure, and continue to be responsible for electricity delivery and transmission, reading the meter, and billing and collecting from customers, but the power will be purchased by the CCA, with the revenues collected staying in the city.

“This is $200 million or so that leaves the Fresno economy every year, and that revenue takes a U-turn into local control and the net revenues — after you’ve procured your power, sold your power — you can structure your rates so that there is a net revenue building reserves, building program funds, operational funds, and then offer programs that respond to the needs of the local community,” Hastings said.

Customers are able to opt out and stay with the service provided by PG&E rather than a CCA program.

A 2016 survey commissioned by the Clean Power Exchange, a program meant to accelerate the spread of Community Choice Energy, found that a majority of Central Valley Residents wants a choice in how their electricity is generated.

According to the survey, 66 percent of the voters are supportive of providing locally produced electricity if the revenues would be reinvested back into the economy, and 71 percent are in support of having a local and renewable electricity source owned by the community.

 

Jolt for the economy

Barry Vesser, deputy director for the Center for Climate Protection, said that CCAs provide competition as PG&E and other major utilities have somewhat of a monopoly in the energy industry, but that the investor-owned utility will not lose profits.

“PG&E’s business model is widely misunderstood in the public,” Vesser said. “PG&E doesn’t make profit, by law, on the generation side of their business. They provide service for customers and are only allowed to be reimbursed for the costs. Although they are losing revenue, they are not losing profits.”

Vesser said that the CCAs will influence utilities to compete for customers and provide better service.

Vesser also said that the business community should be involved in the CCA process so they could have input and express their needs, especially since businesses can be large consumers of power.

Al Galvez was a public affairs manager for PG&E for the Central and southern San Joaquin Valley, serving from Madera County to Kern County for 15 years. He recently wrote an op-ed published by The Fresno Bee about community choice in the Central Valley.

In the op-ed, Galvez details benefits of CCAs and how they are revolutionizing a 100-year-old utility system for newer, local, clean and community based energy systems.

“I think that if you have some of the bigger counties or cities like Fresno get in, it will influence the smaller cities,” Galvez said. “Its an opportunity for a city or a county to explore some opportunities that are maybe opening up, to look at from a cost perspective.”

 

Municipalities Taking Another Look At Community Choice Energy, by Frank Lopez, The Business Journal, April 9, 2019.

More super-sized solar could be coming to California

In the most inspiring of ways, California is a very selfish state. It seems that every time massive development is announced somewhere in the country, it isn’t long until the Golden State takes notice and yells “Wait, wait, look at ME!” with some more massive news.

Welp, the same is true this week. You may have heard about the more than 1 GWac of solar in Ohio that already has siting board approval, a lofty feat for a a state that currently contains just over 200 MWdc in capacity. Well not to take the attention away from a market that most assuredly deserves it, but today the Kern County Board of Supervisors will be considering a 500 MW project to be located on 2,652 acres just southeast of the unincorporated area of Cantil, California.

At this point it goes without saying, but that is MASSIVE. We don’t usually use the standard football field comparison that’s thrown around for sizing perspective, but post-season depression is setting in early this year, so here it is: that’s over 2,000 football fields worth of solar panels. For further perspective, that’s more yards than Jerry Rice gained over his entire career.

The developer behind the project, which has been dubbed the Eland 1 Solar Project: 8minutenergy. This is unsurprising, as the company is no stranger to developing massive solar projects.

And speaking of storage, according to the project’s application and environmental impact report, it is expected to be paired with additional energy storage, though it was not stated at what capacity this storage would be. Also left up to question are the brand of panels that will be used, the inverters, racking and whether or not the panels will be mounted on fixed-tilt racking or trackers.

There is reason for hope that this project will be approved, not only because it is being proposed in California, but because The Kern County Planning Commission approved it at their hearing on it last month.

Fully, the commission will be considering rezoning a couple of areas the project will be located on, as those areas are currently only zoned for limited agriculture, mobile homes and suburban residential housing. Additionally, the project’s five conditional use permits will be reviewed.

If the project is approved, the move to construction will likely be a quick one. 8minutenergy anticipates that the project will take just one year to build, and had optimistically looked at Q1 of this year to begin, but since that time has passed it is likely the company will want to get a move on when and if Eland 1 Solar is approved.

 

More super-sized solar could be coming to California, by Tim Sylvia, PV Magazine, April 9, 2019.

Community Choice Energy a Plus

I read with interest the “It is time to revisit Community Choice Energy for the Central Valley” by Al Galvéz (The Bee, March 23). I have heard about Community Choice energy and think the Fresno County Board of Supervisors and the Fresno City Council should be proactive in looking into this opportunity.

I am afflicted with Valley Fever among other health issues, I am mostly housebound, and have to have the AC on during the summer. I am a senior citizen, and know there are others who cannot afford AC due to the high costs of energy bills. I also hear that the city is considering raising rates for sewage and water by July, and most likely we will see energy rate increases by summer.

I keep reading about how there’s no money; well, here’s your solution. Therefore, my question is: Why aren’t they taking Community Choice more seriously? The communities are the ones who seriously suffer and our elected leaders should be looking for solutions instead of ignoring them. Half the state is doing this. Why aren’t we? I say the City Council and supervisors should actively consider Community Choice Energy for us, and the future of our children.

Jimmie Rodriguez, Fresno

 

Adam Schiff: Letters to the editor, April 3, 2019, The Fresno Bee, April 3, 2019.

California Already Has a Green New Deal. Here’s How It Works

Republicans in the Senate uniformly voted against the Green New Deal earlier this week. President Donald Trump thinks it can help him win re-election. And conservative pundits on cable news regularly rail against it.

But 3,000 miles away, the former Republican mayor of Fresno, a conservative hub of California’s Central Valley, sounds very different.

When Ashley Swearengin talks about her economic development plans, she ends up describing policies that align with the principles of the Green New Deal: rethinking how the city does business to address climate change while dealing with a range of other social ills. Her plan includes rethinking the city’s development patterns, zoning code and transportation infrastructure while reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 40% and addressing a slew of environmental problems.

“This is the response to the realities of climate change,” she says, adding, “not just change but also the existing environmental burden that this corner of the state bears.”

Fresno is not alone. Officials in cities across California and in state government have for years been implementing a hodgepodge of programs aligned with the principles of a Green New Deal and, many of them say, California could be a model for how such a program could work at the national level.

“What we’ve done so far in California could be used as a model,” says Kevin de León, who pushed through several key pieces of climate legislation as president pro tempore of the state senate, “not just for the sub-nationals but for national governments throughout the world.”

The federal Green New Deal resolution, introduced by freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, calls for a “mobilization” to move the country to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in the coming decades while also addressing a number of social ills. For now, it’s more of a battle cry than a concrete set of policies.

In California, the spirit of the Green New Deal has been alive for years, if not described in those exact words.

Just as the Green New Deal is meant to be more of an umbrella for an aggressive approach to fighting climate change on multiple fronts, California does not have a silver bullet on its climate policy. Instead, officials in the deep-blue state have done everything from building high-speed rail to funding for clean energy research and development to rules requiring green initiatives that aid low-income communities. All of those programs are in service of the state’s overall target, set last year, of hitting net-zero emissions by 2045.

Perhaps the most central program to California’s internal climate fight is its five-year-old cap-and-trade program. The first of its kind in the country, the program sets a cap on carbon-dioxide emissions in multiple sectors and requires companies to pay if they emit too much. That money is then used for a variety of clean energy projects, and, thanks to a follow-up law, a quarter of the funding is used to the benefit of disadvantaged communities such as Fresno.

The results of the state’s focus on equity in its clean and green push are already visible on the ground. In Oakland, a group called Rising Sun prepares workers to hold green jobs just as the state implements a requirement that all new homes are net zero. In Fresno,a public-private partnership is deploying a fleet of electric vehicles as a van pool for underserved areas.

The $7 million program, funded by cap-and-trade dollars, is designed to improve access for low-income communities while reducing emissions.

“Obviously, the use of electric vehicles and GHG (greenhouse gas) reduction technologies in our equipment is good for the environment,” says Tara Lynn Gray, president of Fresno Metro Black Chamber of Commerce, who is leading the project. “But even more than that, we see it as a social justice project, and an economic justice project.”

Importantly, this portfolio of programs has paid dividends in the state’s bigger push to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Last year, the state said that it had reduced its emissions to 1990 levels, achieving that goal much sooner than the state’s original 2020 target. Californians emit less on a per capita basis than any state except New York, according to Energy Information Administration data, even though many of them commute over long distances.

The Green New Deal spirit also thrives at the city and county level. In Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti described his decision in February to cancel plans for three new gas-fired power plants as “the Green New Deal, not in concept, not in the future, but now.” The city has a goal of reducing emissions 45% by 2025, and the city’s electric utility is studying how it can chart a path to 100% renewable energy. At the same, the city’s sustainability program includes other measures to clean up communities and create green jobs.

“This is the type of work that we’ve been doing in L.A. for a long time,” says Lauren Faber, the city’s chief sustainability officer. “It’s sort of the urban Green New Deal.”

Critics of a federal Green New Deal like to point to its estimated multi-trillion-dollar price tag and suggest that such a program would kill the economy. “It’s more money than you have in the world,” Trump told Fox News host Sean Hannity this week.

But California officials say their state’s success offers an obvious rebuttal: the state’s economy is larger than that of all but four countries and continues to grow alongside that of the rest of the country. In fact, they say, the savings from avoided health costs, avoided costs of climate-proofing the state and the creation of green jobs, easily outweigh the cost. “It’s not just about reducing air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions,” says Matt Petersen, president of the city-supported Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator. “It’s about creating jobs, about creating new companies and a new economy.”

Still, there are significant differences between the text of the federal Green New Deal resolution and the suite of programs happening on the ground in California. The Green New Deal calls for emissions reductions at a faster pace, a difficult ask given the notoriously slow nature of the federal government and some of the technical realities, and includes policies are not central o slowing climate change like the universal health care plank.

At the same time, the framers of the federal Green New Deal resolution seemed determined to abandon anything that could be perceived as too moderate. There’s no reference to carbon pricing, a component that many environmental advocates see as a mistake given its bipartisan appeal and its simplicity.

And the Green New Deal framers have largely left big business, key players in U.S. politics, out of the conversation. That’s a “missed opportunity,” says Vien Truong, president of Green for All, a progressive environmental group, “When we began to see businesses involved in the California fight,” she says, “we were able to move much further along and much faster.”

Leaders of the effort for a federal Green New Deal may or may not heed that advice as they grapple with their next steps. The Senate voted down the measure this week in a symbolic vote, and Democrats are working to figure out what piecemeal climate legislation they may be able to pass in the coming two years with a divided Congress and a Republican president. At they same time, they are also gearing up for a big legislative push in 2021 in the event that Democrats regain the White House.

In the meantime, no matter what happens at the federal level, states like California — and a handful of others where bold climate policies have gained traction in recent years — offer a big opportunity to experiment. And, supporters say, that’s what the Green New Deal is all about.

 

California Already Has a Green New Deal. Here’s How It Works, by Justin Worland, Time, March 29, 2019

Power to the people: How Fresno community spoke out and helped sway two policy decisions

The following is an excerpt:

Flores and Brudenell are members of the AB 617 South Central Fresno Community steering committee, whose purpose is to help guide the Valley Air District on how to best spend $80 million in state money designated to curb air pollution.

Both were dissatisfied with the air district’s manner of discourse. Flores aired her frustrations at a recent meeting, which I scribbled down and included in a column read by officials with the California Air Resources Board. Brudenell drove to Sacramento to speak before an Assembly Natural Resources Committee oversight hearing.

“We cannot proceed if the district doesn’t play by the rules for effective discussion that they themselves laid down,” Brudenell said at the hearing. “We cannot achieve the goal of a plan informed by the community if the district disregards the will of the community.”

On this occasion, the people’s will won out. When the boundaries of the South Central Fresno Community were released, they contained most of the neighborhoods the steering committee overwhelmingly wanted.

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