If polluters pay, the budget wins

legislative advocate, California Public Interest Research Group

As we start a new year, this is a natural time to reflect on the past and begin to lay plans for what is ahead. As an advocate for the California Public Interest Research Group and, more importantly, as a Californian, I look forward to the Golden State continuing its leadership in proposing and implementing common-sense solutions to many of the gravest problems that face our state, while also serving as a beacon for the rest of the country.

This year, the budget is the primary public-interest issue. It will require creative thought, diligent study and leadership from elected officials, community leaders and citizens to ensure that we can balance the budget in the short term without creating hardships for the state over the long term.

State leaders should continue to look at the concept of a “Polluters Pay” program. For instance, a simple $1 fee on every 55-gallon drum of oil refined in the state would generate almost $500 million to be used for various good projects: to treat and reduce the dangers of asthma, to fund the Carl Moyer school-bus program (the most successful clean-air program in the country) and to help farmers and truckers buy cleaner equipment. This is only one example of a Polluters Pay program that could help balance the state’s budget. Eliminating tax breaks for offshore drilling and making sure that polluters pay for state resources used to benefit their bottom line would generate hundreds of millions of dollars for the state’s general fund. Surely, our elected officials should look here before cutting public-interest programs.

California also should continue its move toward cleaner power sources. Shifting from fossil fuels to clean energy would restore our environment, save the state from further out-of-state price manipulation and create more jobs. This would be a shot in the arm for the state’s ailing economy.

As California moves into the 21st century, we need to make sure that we protect the innovative environmental programs that help make this state so great. Let’s use the budget to create a business environment that fosters better business—one that is good for the state economy, good for the environment and good for the citizens.