The Sun
by: Vien Truong and Kim Carter

Big Oil wants us to believe that we have to choose between clean air and economic development that lifts Californians out of poverty. It’s a phony choice and a deeply cynical strategy.

And they’re targeting low-income communities here in the Inland Empire. As leaders of organizations whose purpose is to help such communities prosper and thrive, we have to cry foul.

Much of this propaganda is coming from an oil industry front group calling itself Californians for Affordable and Reliable Energy (“CARE”), whose membership includes the Western States Petroleum Association, California Independent Oil Marketers Association and lots of other interests who make their living producing, selling and burning the fossil fuels that are poisoning our state, making our children sick and holding us economically hostage to the oil, coal and gas industries.

In The Sun on Oct. 25, John Husing of the Inland Empire Economic Partnership, a CARE member composed largely of big-business interests, claimed low-income Californians are under attack from “a well-educated elite” who care more about “environmental purity” than blue-collar jobs. Has he even spoken to anyone who lives in poverty? The real danger to low-income communities and people of color comes from petroleum interests trying to pad their profits at the expense of our health and economic survival.

It’s low-income communities along freeways or busy roads that are most heavily exposed to the air pollution that leads to increased risk of asthma, cancer and other illnesses. In fact, nearly twice as many Californians die from traffic pollution as from motor vehicle accidents.

Everyone agrees that education is one of the surest routes out of poverty. But asthma, exacerbated by air pollution, is the biggest reason kids in disadvantaged communities miss school days. Children in polluted areas actually show signs of slowed lung development.

Pollution hurts our economy. According to the American Lung Association, our dependence on dirty fuels for vehicles causes almost $15 billion in health and economic costs each year. We can do better. Big Oil knows that, which is why it’s spending $20,000 a day lobbying to weaken California’s clean energy and pollution control policies.

The real answer to a healthy economy and a healthy state is not fracking the Monterey Shale to produce gobs more oil to foul our air. The answer is moving to a clean-energy economy that will promote stable jobs in cleaner industries, while freeing us from dependence on the ever-shifting price of oil and gas.

What the oil companies don’t want you to know is that California is adopting smart environmental policies that right now are generating jobs, strengthening our economy, protecting low-income consumers and cleaning our air. Our state’s energy efficiency efforts, for example, have already saved consumers more than $65 billion, helped lower our residential electricity bills to 25 percent below the national average, and contributed to California’s continuing leadership in creating green jobs.

California policymakers are acting to protect the take-home pay of low-income communities through programs like the Climate Dividend, which will return the lion’s share of cap-and-trade revenues from the electric sector directly to consumers. A new law, SB 535 ensures huge chunks of cap-and-trade proceeds will be invested into communities impacted by pollution and poverty. That money will go into projects that clean the air while creating good, career-path jobs.

The fossil fuel industry wants you to believe it cares about vulnerable communities. In reality, it’s trying to stop the progress those communities urgently need in order to protect its profits.

Kim Carter is executive director of the Time For Change Foundation in San Bernardino and a reader member of The Sun’s editorial board. Vien Truong is environmental equity director of The Greenlining Institute,