Coalition: CA Governor's 2021 Budget Doesn't Address Fossil-Fueled Public Health and Climate Crises

Adelita Serena of Mothers Out Front at a Last Chance Alliance rally before
Governor Newsom's State of the State in February 2020. Photo by Dan Bacher. | 

By Dan Bacher | 

At the end of a tumultuous week dominated by the Trump-instigated attempted coup at the U.S. Capitol Wednesday, California Governor Gavin Newsom on January 8 submitted his 2021-22 State Budget proposal to the State Legislature.

The $227.2 billion fiscal blueprint offers funding for immediate COVID-19 response and relief efforts while “making investments for an equitable, inclusive and broad-based economic recovery,” according to the Governor’s Office.

“In these darkest moments of the COVID-19 pandemic, this Budget will help Californians with urgent action to address our immediate challenges and build towards our recovery,” said Governor Newsom upon unveiling the budget. “As always, our Budget is built on our core California values of inclusion, economic growth and a brighter future for all.”

“The Budget makes progress towards the goal I set when taking office to harness California’s spirit of innovation and resilience and put the California Dream within reach of more Californians. I look forward to working with the Legislature to enact these critical immediate and longer-term priorities for our state for the 40 million who call the Golden State home,” explained Newsom.

The response to the budget by environmental, climate and environmental justice groups was mixed. The Sierra Club praised the funding of incentives to replace fossil fuel vehicles with electric vehicles, while the Last Chance Coalition, a coalition of more than 750 public health, environmental justice, climate, and labor organizations, said the budget fails to directly address the extraction and production of fossil fuels in California after a year during which the state’s oil and gas regulators approved thousands of drilling permits. 

What’s in the budget?

“With the end of the COVID-19 pandemic in sight, the Governor’s Budget prioritizes key actions that will urgently help the California families and businesses impacted most,” according to the Governor’s Office.

These key actions include:

  • $372 million to speed up administration of vaccines across all of California’s 58 counties, bolstering the state’s all-hands-on-deck approach to swift and safe vaccine distribution.
  •  $14 billion investment in our economic recovery and the Californians who most need relief – those who have lost their jobs or small businesses, or are facing eviction – advancing direct cash supports of $600 to millions of Californians through the Golden State Stimulus, extending new protections and funding to help keep people in their homes and investing in relief grants for small businesses. 
  • The highest levels of school funding – approximately $90 billion total – in California’s history. 
  • $777.5 million for a California Jobs Initiative, which focuses on job creation and retention, regional development, small businesses and climate innovation.   

The proposal also includes $465 million in funds on incentives to replace fossil-fuel vehicles with electric vehicles. Of that, $315 would go to incentive programs supporting purchase of heavy-duty trucks, buses and off-road freight equipment.

In addition, $150 million would be directed toward the Clean Cars for All program that provides incentives for lower-income consumers to replace old, polluting cars with zero-emission electric cars and electric light-duty trucks. 

”The governor is also proposing to extend a variety of fee programs that provide funding for zero-emission vehicles from 2024 (when the programs would have expired) to 2045, and then allowing the California Energy Commission to securitize part of those funds for vehicle incentives and charging infrastructure,” according to a press release from the Sierra Club. “Securitization would allow the funds to be spent in the early years, when reducing greenhouse gas emissions can help the worst effects of climate change.” 

Kathryn Phillips, Director of Sierra Club California, praised these funding measures to replace fossil fueled-vehicles with zero-emission vehicles in a statement:

“In his budget, the governor has highlighted the need to fund programs that get people out of pollution-spewing vehicles and into zero-emission vehicles. This is a good start to the months-long budget debate. 

“Quickly transitioning to electric vehicles is one of the surest ways to cut local air pollution, cut climate pollution, and cut dependence on oil companies and their dangerous fuels.”  

On the other hand, the Last Chance Alliance, an alliance of more than 750 public health, environmental justice, climate, and labor organizations, said the 2021 state budget that Governor Gavin  Governor Gavin Newsom released “fails to directly address the extraction and production of in-state fossil fuels, despite the climate and health threats posed to communities living near pollution sites during this pandemic.”

”While his proposed 2021-2022 budget would provide significant investment in clean car technology, and allocates additional funding for oversight to the scandal-plagued oil and gas regulator CalGEM, these actions must be matched with a commitment to stop doing favors for the oil and gas industry and to protect communities exposed to the harmful health impacts of fossil fuel extraction,” the Alliance said in a press release.  

“As the state confronts a new wave of the virus, Governor Newsom has the responsibility to aid the most affected Californians – including frontline workers, teachers and students in our schools, the unhoused, as well as Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities living near dangerous fossil fuel pollution. Californians need a concrete, forward-looking plan that leaves us more resilient in the face of future emergencies, such as the growing climate crisis. Now is the moment for us to build a more just and healthy future for all,” the alliance stated.

Representatives of member groups of the Alliance also issued statements criticizing the budget, with Alexandra Nagy, Food & Water Watch California Director, calling the budget a “non-starter.”

“Governor Newsom’s budget haphazardly throws money at wildfire mitigation without addressing the root cause of the problem: fossil fuels,” said Nagy. “While COVID-19 ravages our communities, oil drilling deals another blow to Californians’ safety and health that none of us can afford. In order to solve the climate crisis and heal a post-pandemic world, we need bold vision. We need a rapid, just transition to a clean, green economy. Newsom’s budget pads the pockets of his lobbyist friends, but doesn’t protect Californians from dangerous oil drilling. This budget is a nonstarter.” 

Martha Dina Argüello, Executive Director, Physicians for Social Responsibility – Los Angeles, pointed out how frontline communities from Los Angeles to Kern County are suffering from the “dual crises of a pandemic and environmental injustice.”

“There is a growing body of evidence linking air pollution to higher rates of COVID-19 deaths,” stated Arguello. “That means, from Los Angeles to Kern County, primarily Black and Latino working-class communities who disproportionately live near oil infrastructure and often breathe the worst air quality in the nation are reeling from dual crises of a pandemic and environmental injustice.”

“While Governor Newsom tweets that ‘climate change is real,’ his administration gave thousands of permits to oil companies during a pandemic, while doing nothing to support frontline communities who have been demanding stronger health protections like 2,500-foot setbacks for years. We need our Governor and his budget to meet the moment by realizing the vision that Californians have for our just climate future: our recovery from COVID-19 is an opportunity to build back better and build back fossil-free while supporting working families and communities of color,” she said. 

“This pandemic has laid bare hardships and innumerable inequalities for Californians,” said Caroline Henderson, Senior Climate Campaigner at Greenpeace USA. “As we continue to navigate this uncertain time, the Newsom administration must provide both immediate relief and a path forward for those in need - our teachers and students, the unhoused, frontline workers, as well as workers laid off by the declining oil industry and the communities of color suffering from the compounding health impacts of living near oil drilling during a pandemic.”

“The dueling crises we face require a bold agenda for economic recovery, job creation that prioritizes public health and safety, and environmental justice. For example, by ramping up job creation in oil well remediation, the state could solve the problem of cleaning up toxic pollution and creating good jobs for laid off oil workers at the same time. We must build back a better, brighter future. By investing in job creation programs that speed up our transition off fossil fuels, Governor Newsom can make California more resilient for future crises and support working families with good union jobs and strong pathways to long-term careers,” Henderson concluded.

Since January 2019, Governor Newsom’s oil and gas regulators have approved a total of 7,625 total oil and gas drilling permits, according to updated data from Consumer Watchdog and the Fractracker Alliance at the website:

In 2020, CalGEM approved 3,344 permits, including 1,884 new permits and 1,460 oil well rework permits. New permits approved during the first nine months of 2020 rose 160%, while new wells actually drilled plummeted, the groups found.

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