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    Wildfires and Climate Change

    By Assemblymember Phil Ting–

    Waking up to a dark, hazy orange sky on September 9 was a simultaneously eerie and alarming experience. It felt like a scene from a futuristic doomsday. But there were no Hollywood effects on this day. What we saw outside our windows was frighteningly real.

    Multiple wildfires have been burning up and down the West Coast for weeks, taking lives, destroying properties, and choking us with unhealthy air. In California, we broke the record for the number of acres lost in one year, surpassing the three million mark just two weeks ago. And in a matter of weeks, six of this year’s blazes have landed on the state’s Top 20 list of the largest wildfires in modern history.

    There is no question that climate change is playing a role in these devastating fires. Hotter temperatures and less rainfall dry out our forests, making them extremely flammable and explosive. More than ever, I am committed to push for stronger policies to help address our most pressing environmental crisis: global warming.

    We must start by greening our transportation sector. Forty percent of California’s greenhouse gasses, which form and trap heat in our Earth’s atmosphere, comes from the vehicles you and I drive every day. A shift to zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) would be the fastest way we can make the biggest dent in slowing climate change. To date, more than a dozen countries have announced phasing out internal combustion engines in vehicles by 2050. The urgency of the situation requires us to act with such boldness.

    I have long championed efforts to move California toward a ban on the sale of new, gas-powered cars. To help get us there, I fought to include $1.5 million in the state budget two years ago for the California Air Resources Board to study how we can best implement this strategy. The results should be out next year, and I hope to incorporate some of those findings into new legislative proposals. Such laws would complement existing efforts requiring more clean buses and commercial trucks on our roads.

    In addition, I will continue my efforts to improve the state Clean Vehicle Rebate Program, providing more targeted financial incentives to entice Californians to make the switch to a clean car. Since some federal rebates have ended, my goal is to increase the state’s cash-back amounts to attract new consumers. Larger rebates would then phase out over time, as supply and demand for clean cars increases. Today, roughly half of the nation’s clean car sales occur in California, but we are not on track to meet the state’s five million ZEV target by 2030.

    In order to support more clean cars on our roads, we must also ramp up the number of charging stations for electric vehicles (EVs). My bill, AB 841, would require the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to eliminate the current years-long backlog on pending EV charging station applications over the next five months, if signed by Governor Newsom. Faster approvals and installation of new chargers would increase the demand for EVs. Consumers have often said that one reason they’re on the fence about clean cars is the fear of getting stuck somewhere without a charging station. Added locations would convince more drivers to move past their range anxiety and make the transition.

    While the state has made progress in reducing carbon pollutants by adopting cleaner energy sources like solar and limiting commercial emissions through our Cap and Trade program, we need to do more. Clearly, California’s massive wildfires suggest we have to act sooner rather than later and with greater urgency than ever before. The longer we wait, the prospects of more orange, smoke-filled skies will grow.

    Phil Ting represents the 19th Assembly District, which includes the Westside of San Francisco along with the communities of Broadmoor, Colma, and Daly City.

    Published on September 24, 2020