Thursday, May 22, 2008

Banding Together To Protect The Budget

Remember last year’s budget debacle?

California’s legislative Republicans held up the budget for more than a month as they tried to roll back environmental protections – and as everyday Californians rolled their eyes at the lack of leadership they exhibited.

Now, they’re at it again. They’ve already said they plan to postpone implementation of California’s Global Warming Solutions Act, roll back diesel pollution reductions and undermine the 8-hour work day. These proposals probably will become a big part of the negotiations surrounding California’s 2008-2009 budget.

So this year, Sierra Club California and its environmental, health and labor allies have taken an early, unified stand against the efforts to undermine our environmental and worker protections.
California needs solid proposals to close a budgetary gap that’s yawned to more than $15 billion.

That’s why the Republican proposals are so shaky: they actually pile on more potential costs. For example, the Republicans want the Legislature to extend deadlines for cleaning up dangerous emissions from the diesel trucks responsible for nearly 40 percent of California’s most toxic diesel pollution.

At what cost? Diesel pollution annually leads to 1,500 early deaths annually, and causes about $12 billion in costs associated with premature death, health care, lost productivity and lost school attendance each year.

There’s even more potential expense associated with a delay in the state’s Global Warming Solutions Act. If we don’t immediately address the pollution that causes global warming, we won’t benefit from the measures taken to reduce that pollution: cleaner air and energy, more efficient cars and appliances and protected coastal areas.

And we might not take in as big a share of the $1.79 billion that venture capitalists poured into California’s green economy last year.

Despite the clear benefits provided by the environmental rules, Sierra Club California advocates fully expect this year’s budget negotiations to once again include a battle to protect our air and atmosphere.

As the minority party, Republicans have the most power during the budget process, since they can withhold the few Republican votes needed to reach the 2/3 super-majority required to adopt the budget. Last year, they tried (and mostly failed) to block the use of the California Environmental Quality Act to address global warming.

Even as the Republicans gear up to attack these critical protections, the state’s most important Republican, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger indicated this month that he wants to keep the Global Warming Solutions Act safe from attack. He’s also made it easier to implement the diesel truck rule, by providing nearly $50 million to assist low-income truckers in complying with the new rules. Legislative Democrats, most notably Senator Alan Lowenthal and Assemblymember Mark DeSaulnier also stand with us. Like us, they’re taking a stand against the potential hijacking of the state’s budget.

Hopefully, when the budget negotiations begin in earnest, California’s working families won’t be rolling their eyes at another Republican tantrum. They’ll be looking forward to cleaner air, cleaner energy and a new, greener future.

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