New state budget must keep clean air investments to help polluted cities like Fresno | Opinion

As summer approaches, air quality across the Central Valley will worsen dramatically as it does every year. With each punishing heat wave comes clouds of choking smog and diesel soot that make it dangerous for our kids to play outside.

The presence of industrial agricultural operations, major roadways and warehouses means the 4.4 million people living in the region regularly breathe air that harms our families and children’s health. Our air quality crisis is so extreme that Bakersfield, Fresno-Madera-Hanford and Visalia have among the worst air quality in the United States across all three categories the American Lung Association measures.

Counties across the Central Valley have asthma rates well above the state’s average. It is not fair for our children and families to have to stay inside because the air outside will make us sick. It is not right that we suffer constantly from health impacts caused by air pollution. Our communities will be locked into breathing polluted air for years to come without bold action from Gov. Newsom and the state Legislature.

We know that air pollution is a problem that does not affect everyone equally. Nationally, people of color are almost four times more likely to live in a county with poor air quality. In California, residents most impacted by “diesel death zones,” areas where trucks pollute the air so heavily it significantly impacts health outcomes, are disproportionately low-income communities of color.

Newsom and state lawmakers ensured no new cuts in the state budget May revise. While we appreciate budget challenges, now is the time to continue to protect and strengthen clean transportation and increase investments. We do not need to keep funding the status quo. We can expand our equitable, pollution-free transportation programs by pulling funding from outdated, unnecessary fossil fuel subsidies and from funding that supports the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure.

California’s climate action must center on equity to recognize the years of harm our communities have endured due to historically unjust policies. Now is the time to protect and strengthen climate and clean air programs so they continue to provide equitable access to clean transportation options.

Bottom line, vehicle pollution is a massive threat to the health of front-line communities across the state. We need a steady investment and a strong commitment from our state leaders to mitigate our air pollution and climate crisis. Last year Newsom and the Legislature made a commitment to uplift front-line communities across the state by centering equity and clean transportation. We need Newsom to keep his promise and effectively fund clean transportation in this year’s budget.

Kevin D. Hamilton, is the co-founder and co-executive director of the Central California Asthma Collaborative.