San Joaquin Valley residents can’t choose whether or not to grapple with climate change. Its threats are real, and its impacts felt. The Valley is at a crossroads as water becomes more scarce, precipitation patterns change, temperatures increase, in turn impacting air quality, energy costs, water availability, health and employment options.

Fortunately, there’s a growing climate for opportunity in our region as California confronts the complementary challenges of climate change and dependence on petroleum.

Unlike Assemblymember Jim Patterson (“Senator de Leon’s Green Vision Has Valley Seeing Red” March 18, 2015), we believe clean energy opportunities abound and we applaud state legislators for taking the next step to cement California’s position as a national leader.  

California’s groundbreaking policies, led by AB 32, are injecting hundreds of millions of dollars into clean energy, energy efficiency, clean transportation, affordable housing and active transportation projects across California, including in disadvantaged communities often most impacted by climate change—$832 million this year, and more than a billion expected next year.

The growing clean energy industry is providing opportunities for high quality careers as well, including more than 10,000 jobs in the San Joaquin Valley alone. And the transition from petroleum dependence promises not only benefits to the environment but to community health and economic security though consumer savings from reduced reliance on energy and fuel.

Yes, we have to ensure that the benefits of California’s clean energy and energy efficiency policies reach California’s lower income communities and residents, including those communities and residents in the San Joaquin Valley, farmworkers being of the most vulnerable often undermined by local elected officials. Increased transportation options – such as transit and car- or ride-share programs – must extend to our small cities and rural communities; employment opportunities must focus on communities most in need of high quality jobs and career development opportunities; emission reductions programs must focus on those emissions that most impact health and well-being; weatherization and energy efficiency programs must continue to serve lower income households; all communities must be walkable and bike-able with safe paths; and programs and policies targeting the sustainability of water and water infrastructure must ensure water – and good water quality-  for communities vulnerable to a diminished water supply.

We need to ensure that a transition to a healthy, sustainable economy does not unfairly, and inadvertently, burden those Californians least able to weather the short-term costs that may accompany the changes that we will confront. At the same time, no amount of push-back or spending by dirty energy industries should delay progress.

The charge for our legislative leadership and our communities is clear. We must reduce our reliance on petroleum to reduce the impacts of climate change and reverse the environmental degradation extractive industries have caused. We must take heed of the opportunities this transition presents and expand and ensure access to both environmental and economic well-being to those communities and regions that have for too long lacked access to either. We must buffer any short term costs that will accompany a long term trend towards a better health, increased equality, economic security, environmental health and a sustainable future.

We must elect those representatives that understand this challenge and can champion the change. We have no other choice.

Rey León is Executive Director and Founder of San Joaquin Valley Latino Environmental Adv. & Policy Project (Valley LEAP). Veronica Garibay is Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Valley-based Leadership Counsel for Justice & Accountability.