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A tax on the wealthiest Californians would create cleaner air, if approved by voters

Tom Banse
Northwest News Network
In August, California state regulators adopted new rules requiring that all new light-duty cars sold be electric or hydrogen powered by 2035.

This November, Californians will vote on an income tax increase for the state’s wealthiest residents.

The money would be invested in zero emission vehicle programs and wildfire prevention and response. The state expects between $3.5 and $5 billion in revenue from the increase annually. Jefferson Public Radio’s Roman Battaglia recently spoke to two supporters of Proposition 30, Will Barrett with the American Lung Association and Tim Edwards, president of the union that represents CalFire firefighters, Local 2881.

Roman Battaglia: Today we're talking about Prop 30 which adds an increased 1.75% tax on personal income over $2 million to fund zero emission vehicle projects and wildfire prevention efforts. I'm curious Will, from the American Lung Association, Why are you involved in this project?

Will Barrett: The American Lung Association was an early supporter of Proposition 30. And we've seen the list of public health organizations, medical providers growing since that time and really, what drew us to this ballot measure is the fact that it gets at the heart of two of the most prominent sources of air pollution threatening the health of Californians. Today, the transportation sector is the leading source of smog forming pollutants and extreme wildfire behavior is adding tremendous amount of particle pollution to our air.

RB: And Tim has CalFire been involved with this from the start. Are you the ones who advocated for the Wildfire prevention stuff?

Tim Edwards: Yes, we were invited into the conversation when this first started and we figured that wildfires, I would argue have almost become if not the first, second [contributor] to air pollution in California over the last few years. And if you've been in Sacramento or San Francisco or any of the major cities during wildfires, you've just been inundated with the toxic smoke from these fires and our firefighters are exposed to it for long periods of time. So, when you talk clean air in California, you can't have that conversation without talking wildfires. And all that toxic smoke is also coming from homes, not just vegetation. Homes, vehicles, pesticides. Everything in those buildings is going up into the atmosphere, and then the particles land in our water, polluting our water. So you cannot talk clean air without talking wildfires and that's why we got involved.

RB: Wildfires are definitely something people can’t ignore because you see that smoke. You feel it, you smell it. It's a part of everyone's lives during wildfire season. So it's definitely something that impacts a lot of people and they want to focus on that stuff.

It looks like there are a couple of Divisions for how the money is going to go: 35% for EV infrastructure, 45% for clean mobility and 25% for Wildfire mitigation. Do you know why those divisions were set up like that? And what do each of those categories mean? What's going to actually be funded through those?

WB: We know that there's a real challenge of transportation pollution in California. We know that the shift to zero emission technologies is critical to meeting our clean air standards, cutting carbon pollution that causes climate change and associated health risks. And what these categories do really, it's investing in incentive funding for Californians to be able to receive additional funding to help put towards zero emission vehicle purchases. But also not just passenger vehicles but buses, heavy-duty vehicles that cause even higher levels of pollution than the cars on our road.

We're also looking at investing heavily into the infrastructure that's needed to charge the growth in zero emission vehicles, school buses, trucks, that kind of thing. So it's taking a broader approach of looking at how do we help Californians get Into more zero emission Vehicles, as well as how do we make sure that the infrastructure needed to charge those Vehicles as the rollout goes forward keeps pace with the need.

I would also note that this ballot measure is investing heavily into communities that have the highest levels of pollution, the lowest socioeconomic status, really targeting investments into communities that have been most impacted by pollution from the transportation sector and other pollution sources. So it's trying to take a comprehensive long-term investment approach to make this change to zero emission Technologies.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Roman Battaglia is a regional reporter for Jefferson Public Radio. After graduating from Oregon State University, Roman came to JPR as part of the Charles Snowden Program for Excellence in Journalism in 2019. He then joined Delaware Public Media as a Report For America fellow before returning to the JPR newsroom.