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Op-Ed: It Is Time to Appoint Real Climate Leaders Who Understand Equity and Justice in California

We have been pleased to see Governor Newsom take initiative on fighting climate change during his first years in office.

The impacts of climate change are already visible. With emissions from the transportation sector still growing despite years of policymaking, real action is needed now. We’re proud that California continues to lead the country on these matters. Governor Newsom’s recent Executive Orders that protect and conserve thirty percent of the state’s lands and water, ban the sale of gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035, and call for transportation funding to align with the state’s climate goals are putting us on the right track to curb the worst impacts of climate change.

However, we need bold leadership at every level and in every agency to ensure these visionary Executive Orders become reality.

As we prepare for a new state legislative session in 2021, Governor Newsom has an opportunity to appoint new leaders that will work towards turning the tide on climate change. In addition to appointing a Senate replacement for Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, the Governor has the opportunity to choose a new Chair of the California Air Resources Board (CARB) as the current Chair, Mary Nichols, will be retiring this month.
CARB also has several open board seats, and there are open commission seats at the California Transportation Commission.

CARB plays an essential role in implementing regulatory policies to improve air quality and reduce emissions. The board also oversees innovative programs such as the Sustainable Transportation Equity Project (STEP), which provides up to $19.5 million to address community transportation needs and reduce emissions.

The California Transportation Commission allocates the majority of the state’s transportation funding – around $5 billion a year – and is critical to advancing transportation investments that help us reduce emissions from the transportation sector. Right now, almost eighty percent of the state’s transportation funding is committed to road and highway projects that will lead to more emissions and air pollution.

In all of these roles, we need progressive, climate-justice- and equity-focused candidates who are ready to lead. And as many across the country, including the Biden administration, look to California for forward-thinking policy on climate change, there is also opportunity for the California Legislature to align itself with the climate leadership we need.

Senator Jim Beall has retired, leaving a vacancy for Chair of the Senate Transportation Committee. And on the other side of the aisle, we currently have less-than-ideal climate leadership in Assembly Transportation Chair Jim Frazier. Chair Frazier, in particular, has shown time and again that he is no proponent of implementing the Executive Orders that the Governor has mandated nor of moving forward the policy needed to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions by the target dates. Furthermore, research from the California League of Conservation Voters showed that as of 2012, Frazier personally holds more than $1 million worth of stock in Chevron and, “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.”

These appointments are made by the President of the Senate, Toni Atkins, and the Speaker of the Assembly, Anthony Rendon. Choosing new Senate and Assembly Transportation Committee Chairs are opportunities for these leaders to step up and endorse a climate-smart future for our state. These appointments are for important leadership roles that can guide the state towards addressing climate change and fill in the gaps where most needed, while California continues to grow and expand economically.

It’s time to appoint progressive, climate-justice- and equity-focused leaders that are ready to lead the charge in both Sacramento and the nation’s capital.

Amy Yockus Hartman is Network Engagement Manager and Nailah Pope-Harden is State Policy Manager for ClimatePlan

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