During the school year, I drive my two sons, ages 6 and 3, to school in downtown Fresno. As a Central Valley mom, I have to include one more step in my morning routine - checking the air quality flag. For those who don't know, right under the American flag and the California flag at Yokomi Elementary is a color-coded flag representing the severity of air pollution that day.
My sons don't suffer from asthma, but I do. I always tell them it's healthy to spend as much time as possible playing outside. I still remember the day my older son, then in kindergarten, came home and told me: "We should play outside, but sometimes it's not good for us." That day, his teachers said he and his classmates had to stay inside during recess because the air was especially bad, represented by a red or purple flag.
As a third-generation Valley resident, these issues aren't new to my family. Recently, I read a Viewpoints piece in The Sacramento Bee written by Jay McKeeman of the California Independent Oil Marketers Association. McKeeman's piece complained that the oil industry soon has to comply with Assembly Bill 32, California's climate and energy law, just like every other major polluter. It makes me wonder just how out of touch the oil industry must be these days.
For the past five years, I have worked in the environmental health program of Fresno Metro Ministry, a faith-based organization focused on learning, connecting and engaging to achieve healthy people and healthy places. Every day, I work with low-income families who are struggling to pay rent, eat healthy food and, yes, fill up the gas tank. Driving is still very much a way of life in the Valley. The low-income communities and people of color I work with are disproportionately impacted by dirty air, putting them at higher risk for illness. Air pollution sends my friends and family to the hospital. It even shapes how kids' lungs develop, and as we know, it's often deadly.
More than eight years after AB 32 became law, it's shocking to hear that the oil industry is still not ready to cover the cost of reducing the harmful pollution that so deeply affects my community. The industry spent $56 million on Sacramento lobbyists in the last five years alone, just to fight a popular clean air law that threatens their record profits.
Now that transportation fuels are set to come under the "cap" of "cap and trade," they are suddenly too broke to afford the cost. Worse yet, they are threatening to maximize profits on the backs of consumers. The top five oil companies raked in estimated profits of $211 billion in the past two years alone. Fresno families shouldn't have to suffer more just to subsidize oil industry riches.
The fact that the oil industry is kicking and screaming about AB 32 is ample proof that it's actually working for Californians. Cars are becoming more fuel-efficient, meaning that drivers don't have to fill up as often. In fact, the oil industry sold 523 million fewer gallons of gas in 2012 than in 2009, even as the economy grew. Californians will spend at least 30 percent less on fuel by 2020 than they did in 2012. Dangerous greenhouse gas emissions are declining. Once you know this, it's not at all surprising that those in the business of selling oil are upset that Californians are saving money by using less of their product. We shouldn't be fooled by their misinformation.
I want to live in a California that values my children's health as much as I do. One thing is clear: Californians want more clean air and less dirty politics.
Sarah Sharpe is the director of programs for Fresno Metro Ministry.