Clean Energy Progress Has Valley Communities Seeing Green

Rey León and Veronica Garibay

Rey León is Executive Director and Founder of San Joaquin Valley Latino Environmental Adv. & Policy Project (Valley LEAP). Veronica Garibay is Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Valley-based Leadership Counsel for Justice & Accountability.

San Joaquin Valley residents can’t choose whether or not to grapple with climate change. Its threats are real, and its impacts felt. The Valley is at a crossroads as water becomes more scarce, precipitation patterns change, temperatures increase, in turn impacting air quality, energy costs, water availability, health and employment options.

Fortunately, there’s a growing climate for opportunity in our region as California confronts the complementary challenges of climate change and dependence on petroleum.

Unlike Assemblymember Jim Patterson (“Senator de Leon’s Green Vision Has Valley Seeing Red” March 18, 2015), we believe clean energy opportunities abound and we applaud state legislators for taking the next step to cement California’s position as a national leader.  

California’s groundbreaking policies, led by AB 32, are injecting hundreds of millions of dollars into clean energy, energy efficiency, clean transportation, affordable housing and active transportation projects across California, including in disadvantaged communities often most impacted by climate change—$832 million this year, and more than a billion expected next year.

The growing clean energy industry is providing opportunities for high quality careers as well, including more than 10,000 jobs in the San Joaquin Valley alone. And the transition from petroleum dependence promises not only benefits to the environment but to community health and economic security though consumer savings from reduced reliance on energy and fuel.

Yes, we have to ensure that the benefits of California’s clean energy and energy efficiency policies reach California’s lower income communities and residents, including those communities and residents in the San Joaquin Valley, farmworkers being of the most vulnerable often undermined by local elected officials. Increased transportation options – such as transit and car- or ride-share programs – must extend to our small cities and rural communities; employment opportunities must focus on communities most in need of high quality jobs and career development opportunities; emission reductions programs must focus on those emissions that most impact health and well-being; weatherization and energy efficiency programs must continue to serve lower income households; all communities must be walkable and bike-able with safe paths; and programs and policies targeting the sustainability of water and water infrastructure must ensure water – and good water quality-  for communities vulnerable to a diminished water supply.

We need to ensure that a transition to a healthy, sustainable economy does not unfairly, and inadvertently, burden those Californians least able to weather the short-term costs that may accompany the changes that we will confront. At the same time, no amount of push-back or spending by dirty energy industries should delay progress.

The charge for our legislative leadership and our communities is clear. We must reduce our reliance on petroleum to reduce the impacts of climate change and reverse the environmental degradation extractive industries have caused. We must take heed of the opportunities this transition presents and expand and ensure access to both environmental and economic well-being to those communities and regions that have for too long lacked access to either. We must buffer any short term costs that will accompany a long term trend towards a better health, increased equality, economic security, environmental health and a sustainable future.

We must elect those representatives that understand this challenge and can champion the change. We have no other choice.

Rey León is Executive Director and Founder of San Joaquin Valley Latino Environmental Adv. & Policy Project (Valley LEAP). Veronica Garibay is Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Valley-based Leadership Counsel for Justice & Accountability.

Follow Valley LEAP @LatinoEnviro

Kevin de Léon: Valley is poised for green energy economic boom

Fresno | March 7, 2015

California’s great middle is a land set apart. No valley is more vast, no soil is more fertile, and tragically, no air is more polluted.

As a landscape of paradox, the San Joaquin Valley is a region where poverty and bounty sit side by side. This situation has been aggravated by state and federal investments that have historically focused elsewhere. The unique challenges of the Valley have been too often overlooked in Sacramento and Washington.

When I look at California’s increasingly post-industrial economy, renewable energy and clean technology are not simply smart for the environment, they are currently the fastest growing job sectors and I cannot help but see a giant opportunity for cities in the Valley.

Clean technology companies in California are creating more jobs and investing more money than competitors in any other state. We need to make sure this economic boom reaches the Valley.

Right now, Kern County is home to the largest wind power farm in the nation, the Alta Wind Energy Center at the Tehachapi Pass, contributing $1.2 billion to Kern’s economy. These kinds of projects create jobs here, bring revenue here, and they are not going anywhere.

Hundreds of millions of dollars from our “cap and trade” system are also being targeted for investment in disproportionately impacted communities, specifically going to many communities dealing with pollution in the Valley starting this year.

Two years ago, I authored a measure that became state law and requires at least 25% of the pollution fees paid by companies go toward these areas. For the first time, the California Environmental Protection Agency is mapping out precise neighborhoods so that new jobs and cleaner air can rise exactly where they are needed most.

Jobs in a green economy — installing solar panels, retrofitting buildings for energy efficiency, manufacturing wind turbines and water filtration systems or assisting in these companies’ offices — are solidly middle class and do not require advanced college degrees.

What they demand are ingenuity and hard work — the stock in trade of a valley that gets up before the sun, heads to farm fields with the latest advances in technology and out-produces the world.

This isn’t politics of the left or right. A decade ago, when California decided to become a world leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it was the Legislature working with Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger who set goals many thought could not be attained.

As a result, scores of new companies in every part of the state, jump-started by the spark of public and private investment, are now bringing clean power to our energy grid.

Rather that wield a coercive stick, California also decided to let utilities and businesses meet in the marketplace of “cap and trade.” The first quarterly auction of the pollution allowances they traded has raised nearly $300 million — funds that California must now invest wisely.

As leader of the State Senate, I will make it a priority that a considerable chunk of the money goes to where it was intended to go — to cities up and down Highway 99 — and that dollars will be spent on projects that truly clean the environment and create real jobs.

To help build on the momentum of the quickly-expanding green sector of our economy, several colleagues and I recently unveiled a package of bills that commits our state to standing at the vanguard of combating climate change.

One of the bills, SB 350, raises the renewable energy goal to 50%, and does the same with increasing energy efficiency in buildings and reducing petroleum use. These 50-50-50 targets for 2030 might strike critics, especially those in the fossil-fuel industry, as nothing more than California Dreamin’.

The Golden State has continually proven these cynics wrong. Our businesses possess the innovative and pioneering spirit that always advances our lead in building the economy of tomorrow.

California’s ability to see and touch the future explains why automakers first began producing cars with ever increasing gas mileage, and how the sun and wind were first harnessed on a large scale for power. Our groundbreaking past is not only a rich tradition but our future calling.

And so we lead the way in producing fruits and nuts and tomatoes and milk and now clean-energy innovation, too. California isn’t the nation’s great exception. California is the nation before the rest of the nation figures it out.


Kevin de Léon, D-Los Angeles, is president pro tem of the California Senate. He wrote this exclusively for The Fresno Bee.

California Poverty: Three Metro Areas In Central Valley Rank Among The Poorest In The Nation

AP 09/20/12 05:09 PM ET

FRESNO, Calif. — Three metropolitan areas in California’s Central Valley, the region with the highest farm revenues in the country, rank among the poorest in the state and nation, Census figures released Thursday show.

Fresno, Modesto and Bakersfield-Delano areas are among the top five U.S. regions with the highest percentage of residents living below the poverty line.

The Fresno area, ranked as the second most impoverished in the nation, trailed only the U.S.-Mexico border area of McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, Texas, the American Community Survey figures show.

Bakersfield-Delano and Modesto ranked fourth and fifth. The data compared large metro areas in 2011 of half million people or more.

The valley’s poverty rate is high even though its agricultural productivity is soaring. California is home to a $35 billion agricultural industry and Fresno County produces more than $5.6 billion in agricultural products. One in four people in the county lived under the poverty line in 2011.

In California, one in six residents lived in poverty. California’s poverty rate went up slightly, from 15.8 to 16.6 percent. Median income fell from $59,540 in 2010 to $57,287 in 2011.

In Fresno County, median income fell from $46,479 to $42,807. Unemployment in the county rose to 16 percent and food stamp use increased to nearly 18 percent.

By comparison, the statewide unemployment rate is 12 percent, and California’s food stamp use is placed at 8 percent.

While Fresno’s poverty rate declined by a percentage point in 2011 to 25.8 percent – a statistically insignificant decrease – it ranked as the poorest metro area in the state for the second year in a row.

Experts say the poverty problem in the nation’s agricultural powerhouse is deeply ingrained. The most important barrier is the valley’s lack of economic diversity. There are simply too few good non-agricultural jobs around and jobs in agriculture tend to be low-wage ones – except for those who run agribusinesses.

“It’s a pretty ag-heavy region, so the inequality of wages and the opportunity to earn better wages is really skewed,” said Caroline Farrell, executive director of the Delano-based Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment. “If you own a farm, you’re apt to earn more wealth, while if you’re a farmworker, don’t earn very much.”

The valley has not been able to bring or retain many new companies partly because it lacks a qualified workforce, said Atonio Avalos, associate professor of economics at Fresno State University.

“We have an issue of skills mismatch,” Avalos said. “Companies may be offering jobs, but the skills of people in the valley are not ones they are looking for.”

Students who want to get a college degree face many barriers, he said, and public funding for education is being slashed. Those who do graduate leave to find jobs elsewhere.

The valley also doesn’t offer attractive amenities and has serious problems such as air pollution that have gone unaddressed.

“If you’re a doctor or engineer, there are other places where you can make good money and live in better conditions,” Avalos said. “Many people don’t come here or leave because of the high incidence of asthma and other respiratory problems.”

Valley leaders, said Farrell of the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment, need to decide whether to break the poverty cycle by investing more in schools, educating children of color and encouraging them to go to college.

“There’s a class and racial divide here,” she said, “and we need to decide how we are going to change that.”

SHIFTING GEARS: 10 best new U.S. bike lanes – is one in your town? Fresno?

A.K. Streeter (@april2462)
Transportation / Bikes
December 18, 2014

No city has done what New York City has done in the last five years in terms of adding new bike lanes to the streets – it’s considered America’s No. 1 biking city by Bicycling Magazine. But lo and behold, 2014 was a year in which many unexpected U.S. cities did some major bike lane construction of their own. Temple City, anyone?

According to People for Bikes,

“This was the year that saw protected lanes pop up in Tempe, Arizona; in Athens, Georgia; in Pentagon City, Virginia. Last year, half of the new mileage of protected bike lanes nationwide was in the Green Lane Project’s six focus cities. This year, protected bike lanes grew twice as fast, and our six focus cities accounted for less than a quarter of the new growth.”

Here is Green Lane project editor Michael Andersen’s pick of the 10 best new U.S. bike lanes:

1) Polk Street, San Francisco
2) 2nd Avenue, Seattle
3) Riverside Drive, Memphis
4) Rosemead Boulevard, Temple City
5) Furness Drive, Austin
6) Broadway, Seattle
7) SW Multnomah Boulevard, Portland
8) Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh
9) King Street, Honolulu
10) Broadway, Chicago
11) Fresno? Why not?

Many of these bike ‘lanes’ are actually what some people call ‘cycle tracks’ because they are for some portion of their length protected from traffic by a physical divider. The Green Lane project prefers the term ‘protected bike lane’ as the most encompassing.

Meanwhile, cities in Canada have been even more proactive than the U.S. in building protected bike lanes, according to Andersen. Toronto and Vancouver are building bike lanes, and cities such as Calgary are getting their first protected bike lanes.

What this means for cyclists is that though bike-to-car interactions can still be tense, there are more reasons than ever to take to biking for a portion of transportation needs! Even if it’s not a daily commute, figuring out how to use a bicycle can decrease stress and increase joy in the everyday. And in fact, the upswing of protected bike lanes make everyone safer, according to this 2014 NYC Department of Transportation study.

14 areas in 6 states out of compliance with fine-particle limit — EPA

14 areas in 6 states out of compliance with fine-particle limit — EPA
Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter
Published: Thursday, December 18, 2014

U.S. EPA today designated 14 areas in six states as out of compliance with the standard for fine particulate matter, a classification that triggers pollution control plans under the Clean Air Act.

In a final decision posted this afternoon, the agency said air monitoring data from 2011 to 2013 show that those areas are contributing to a violation of the standard. The decision finalizes a proposal from August.

The nonattainment areas are in California, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio and Pennsylvania. They include areas with persistent air quality problems, including California’s San Joaquin Valley and the Cincinnati and Cleveland metropolitan areas.

Fine particulate matter refers to airborne particles that are about one-thirtieth the width of a human hair. They are linked to adverse health effects such as lung problems.

In 2012, EPA tightened the limit from 15 micrograms per cubic meter to 12 micrograms per cubic meter, based on information about health effects. The tougher standard was praised by health advocates and criticized by industry groups that had wanted EPA to keep the 15-microgram standard.

The designation decisions will become final 90 days after publication in the Federal Register. Under the Clean Air Act, states with nonattainment areas will be required to come up with “state implementation plans” to lower particle pollution to within the standard.

EPA today also deferred designation decisions on several areas because of data quality issues. Those deferrals encompass eight areas in Georgia that also include parts of South Carolina and Alabama, the entire state of Tennessee except three counties, and the entire state of Florida.

The agency said that it expects additional monitoring data collected this year to help it make decisions on all the areas except for Florida. In Florida, EPA said it discovered data quality issues that will require more time to evaluate.

EPA is naming all other areas of the country either “in attainment” or “unclassifiable.”

The agency named the entire state of Illinois, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as parts of Indiana and Missouri, as unclassifiable due to quality assurance issues at four laboratories run by states and local agencies that process particulate matter data.

Twitter: @apeterka | Email:


Broad Support for Stricter Emissions Limits


Most Favor Stricter Emissions Limits on Power PlantsAbout two-thirds (64%) of the American public favors stricter limits on power plant emissions to mitigate climate change, while a 31% minority oppose stricter limits on emissions.

As with Keystone and fracking policies, views on regulating emissions are divided along partisan lines.  Democrats are far more supportive than Republicans of stricter emission limits on power plants to address climate change. Nearly eight-in-ten Democrats (77%) favor these measures compared with 67% of independents. Among Republicans, as many say they oppose as say they favor these efforts (47% each).

From Low Carbon to Shared Mobility

From Low Carbon to Shared Mobility November 11, 2014 — By Margarita Parra

Have you ever spent more looking for a parking space than actually running the errand, or worse, sitting in the restaurant? And did you think next time you should leave the car at home and use UberX, Lyft, or even public transit?  Have you ever car-pooled? Have you started to ride your bike because it actually moves you around town faster? If you answered yes to any of these questions: Congratulations—you’ve started to build low carbon mobility!

What do I mean by low carbon mobility? Simply this: using less to move more. Low carbon mobility refers to moving people around using less fossil fuel—driving more fuel efficient cars, increasing passengers per vehicle by carpooling, or using buses and trains to commute. Walking and biking, of course, guarantee you the lowest carbon mobility.

This revolutionary concept runs counter to the United States urban tradition of making 75% of daily trips in private motor vehicles. That’s versus only 7% by foot or bike.

U.S. cities base their transportation system on individual car trips, which are incredibly inefficient when it comes to energy, space, and resources. Our roads are filled with heavy, highly sophisticated steel machines carrying just one person. The energy that powers our transit systems comes primarily from oil—it runs everything from cars and buses to planes and ships, everything except our bikes and our feet. And we know burning oil contributes to global warming and respiratory problems.

I visited Mexico City recently, and I enjoyed riding Metrobús, their Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system.  It reminded me of my home city of Bogotá, where we have our own BRT system, Transmilenio. Buses on the BRT run in exclusive lanes, they have their own stations and comprise a network of corridors equivalent to and more flexible than metros.  Plus they cost 10 times less to build and maintain. Mexico City residents’ use public transportation at a very high rate—70% of daily trips occur in high capacity vehicles—but maintaining that high usage remains a challenge when more people want to own and drive their own cars.

Despite the increase in motor vehicle ownership and infrastructure, Metrobús has been a great success. The Mexico City government deserves credit for its leadership. And some of our grantees, including Centro Mexicano de Transporte Sustentable, the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy and El Poder del Consumidor, deserve credit for their support and advocacy.  Many organizations are working to implement  BRT systems in the United States.  But public transit usage overall in the U.S remains very small (In many cities, as few as 2% of all trips occur by public transit—New York (55%) and San Francisco (33%) are the exceptions).

There’s no reason to stop at BRT when it comes to a low carbon mobility future. A more revolutionary concept has now taken hold in many urban centers: shared mobility. One great leader I talked to in Mexico, from the group Fundación Tlaloc, remarked that low carbon mobility necessarily means sharing.  Sharing space and sharing vehicles.  Even for innovative cities like Mexico City, where the shared bicycle system (eco-bici) has displaced many motorized trips in the more dense areas, there’s still room for more sharing opportunities.

The younger generation—and Millennials in particular—excel at shared mobility. Young people base their decisions about commuting on cost and the quality of their experience. The US is seeing fewer vehicle registrations and drivers’ licenses issued than in previous decades. So how do these young folks move around? By using bicycles and car shares, or by choosing to live closer to work or transit. Technology has enabled new mobility solutions, and young people are making a transformational shift from vehicle ownership to vehicle access.

These solutions offer me hope. Young people and people like me who want to de-carbonize our transportation system share some things in common. We all want to avoid traffic jams. We want to reduce our transportation cost. Find ways to reduce our travel time and at the same time reduce fuel consumption (and emissions). In the end, it doesn’t matter what name you give to these trends—we just need to change the way we move!