BY REY LEÓN
Fresno May 7, 2014 Updated 15 hours ago
We are familiar with many of poverty’s trappings in the San Joaquin Valley’s rural towns: inadequate health care, disappointing schools, pollution and a lack of good job opportunities.
Transportation poverty doesn’t come up nearly as often, but it’s real, and it’s suppressing the progress of many families.
My own hometown of Huron, a nearly 100% Latino farmworker community, is the poorest city in the state. Unemployment is always in the double digits, and represents a larger percentage than any industry’s employment numbers in the area. Officially, 30% of residents are out of work — that’s more than double the Fresno County average, itself among the highest rates in the nation. The true number of workers seeking a living-wage career, at least, is higher still.
Behind unemployment, Huron’s second-place industry is migrant farm work. In harvest season, our population grows from 6,700 to more than 15,000, at least when things are good. Today, it is evident that only by diversifying our local economy can we make it more sustainable.
Air pollution feels like an intractable problem here, too, and plays a leading role in our high rates of respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses. Pollution from vehicles is the main source of the problem.
When people in Huron do find work, it can be a three-hour drive to get there. People pile into someone’s old, carbon monoxide-spewing car or take one of the slow diesel buses. When you add in all the farm equipment nearby and ancient diesel trucks that belch out clouds of black fumes in Huron, it’s not surprising that our poor air quality results in so many health problems for people.
Meanwhile, in what feels like a million miles away, we hear that a clean vehicle revolution is underway in other parts of California. “Other” is, unfortunately, a familiar term in our community, where we are always the “other” that puts in the sacrifice but never cashes in on the rewards.
California already accounts for more than one-third of electric vehicles sold nationwide. Electric-drive buses are taking hold in many places. Even electric trucks are coming to market and are replacing dirty diesel models.
Yet, evidence of an electric revolution is almost undetectable in Fresno County — and practically unthinkable to the campesinos in my town.
While the coastal cities of the Bay Area and Los Angeles are enjoying the benefits of clean, zero-emission vehicles, it’s a very different story for us. A gallon of gas is more expensive in Huron than in Fresno, and we also pay the highest price when it comes to our health.
Don’t we deserve clean air and clean vehicles, too?
If there’s any good news, it’s that there are ambitious changes underway to improve these scenarios.
Gov. Jerry Brown has set his sights on electric vehicles, and lawmakers have introduced a plan to ensure that low-income communities and people of color who suffer the greatest consequences of vehicle pollution are full participants in California’s electric future.
The governor’s 2014-15 budget directs $200 million raised from polluting industries through the state’s successful cap-and-trade program to fund electric transportation initiatives, and prioritizes funding in low-income and disadvantaged communities.
And the Valley is likely to see millions more to support clean projects in the years ahead, when polluting oil refineries are added to the program, starting next year. The Hurons of our region will benefit immensely, as will areas such as the west and southwest of the city of Fresno.
The Charge Ahead California Initiative (SB 1275), proposed by Sen. Kevin De León, commits the state to a goal of 1 million electric cars, trucks, and buses on the state’s roads by 2023. The bill builds on existing state rebates to offset the cost of an electric car and re-targets the program to serve low-income and moderate-income Californians.
To invest further in electric vehicles, SB 1275 provides funding for ridesharing programs in low-income communities, an important means of transportation for farmworkers and their families. And it provides additional incentives, making it easier for owners of heavily polluting cars to retire them or replace them with clean ones.
Transitioning roads in Fresno County to make electric vehicles more common will not solve all the challenges of living in a small, poor, rural town, but it will definitely clean the air and improve our health.
The next step is getting the green economy and renewable technologies industry into the Valley, to provide green jobs. This is the other piece of the puzzle to enable low-income communities of color to be participants in an exciting and growing sector of California’s green economy.
Let it begin, for environmental, economic and transportation justice!
Rey León was born and raised in Fresno County. He is the founder and executive director of ValleyLEAP, an environmental and social justice organization serving communities throughout the San Joaquin Valley.
Read more here: http://www.fresnobee.com/2014/05/07/3915173/let-valleys-green-revolution-beginthe.html?sp=/99/274/#storylink=cpy