Governor Gavin Newsom’s latest state budget proposal of $227 billion is one of the largest California has ever seen. But when these proposal charts are broken down, environmental protection agency expenditures are actually down 81.5% from the previous budget year.
These cuts could impact the fragility of our state’s climate and the future environmental issues California faces.
Just over a year ago, in January of 2020, Newsom had given us high hopes on environmental initiatives. His optimistic proposal at the start of the year included spending $12.5 billion over five years to curb carbon emissions, build up the state’s resilience to wildfires, floods, and droughts, and even put $20 million towards a new state park.
According to a KQED article from May of last year, the park’s proposed location would likely be on a 50,000 acre plot of land in the East Bay. However, the article also states that conservation groups would likely need to raise more funds in order to properly preserve the land. That arrangement is still in limbo.
Of course, we now understand how drastically things can change in the course of just one year. Although the statewide stay-at-home order helped slow the spread of the virus, it also resulted in significant hardship. Many businesses shuttered while unemployment peaked in April with over 300,000 residents rendered jobless, forcing the state to shift its budget priorities to address the sputtering economy.
By May of 2020, Newsom had eliminated new program ideas meant to battle climate change, including a $1 billion green loan fund meant to support charging stations for electric vehicles and other renewable energy projects.
Newsom’s most recent proposed plans to designate $4.1 billion for environmental issues still appear to be focused on the infrastructure of environmental regulations, but tax revenues are down and COVID-19 relief is still widely needed.
According to Governor Newsom’s budget summary, “the budget includes significant new strategies to reduce the impacts of climate change with focused investments to support the state’s zero emission vehicle goals, and an additional $1 billion to address a comprehensive wildfire and forest resilience strategy.”
His aim for the 2021-22 budget still includes a number of environmentally conscious proposals aimed towards greener living for Californians, although not as much as initially projected. Some of the issues in consideration include climate change, reduction of smog, relief against wildfires, and a large push for cleaner vehicles on the state’s roads. But when given the circumstances of the past year, the allocation of environmental funds appears that it may have taken a backseat.
But why? It is no surprise that climate change is real. Any San Franciscan will assure you that the typical number of ‘summer days’ we have usually been allotted has been increasing. According to The Wall Street Journal 2020 tied with 2016 as the warmest year on record. Devastating wildfires have continued to rage into January, far past a typical fire season, alarming both climatologists and Californians alike. We want change, but the challenges we face are not easy to overcome.
Although Newsom dealt with the backlash of not always practicing what he preaches, at the heart of his proposal is unyielding support to help the Golden State bounce back from the impacts of COVID-19. Yet, perhaps this is where the struggle lies. While the state continues to deal with the threats due to climate change, the reality is that we are still wading through the debris from the pandemic. Maintaining funding towards COVID-19 relief is an ongoing battle; A balance our future is dependent on.