(CN) – In the upcoming election, Californians must confront a panoply of issues affecting the state: the homelessness epidemic and affordable housing, immigration, transportation and a tempestuous relationship with the Trump administration. But where does the environment fit into the glut of issues facing the state and its electorate?
According to various experts, other issues may predominate but the environment – particularly air quality, water quality, climate change and the spate of devastating wildfires – will continue to play out in elections across the Golden State.
“Historically, poll my constituents and their top two issues were environment and education,” said Assemblyman Marc Berman, D-Palo Alto, at a recent dedication of a public beach. “Today, they put housing and transportation above those, but care for the environment and improving our education system are the foundation of values and passion of my constituents.”
Californians remain willing to vote to spend money on environmental projects as well, as seen by the recent passage of Proposition 68 in June. The $4 billion bond measure will fund state and local parks, environmental restoration and protection projects, water infrastructure and flood control.
“There’s something about the DNA of the average Californian that makes them care about the environment,” said Kathryn Phillips, director of Sierra Club California.
Maybe it’s California’s iconic geography, the diversity and beauty stretching from alpine vistas to parched desert to productive farmland to cool, misty coastland. Or its Mediterranean climate and unpredictable rainfall.
“When you look at California, you have all these different geographic areas, and there are a lot of different policy ideas that come out of these regions,” said Matt Fleming, a spokesman for the California Republican Party.
While the GOP may have a reputation of being pro-business and anti-environment, Fleming says all candidates in California want clean air, clean drinking water, trails to hike and beaches for people to go to.
But the parties differ on how to best secure those desires.
Katie Hill, running for Congress as a Democrat in California’s 25th District – the traditionally conservative LA suburb of Simi Valley – makes clear in her campaign literature and on Twitter that she intends to use the environment as a wedge issue.
“Sensible environmental policy,” she wrote in one tweet in which she shared a recent news story linking California’s ongoing wildfire crisis with climate change.
Incumbent Steve Knight, meanwhile, must fend off his opposition’s claims that he’s overly friendly with the oil and gas industry at the expense of a warming planet. The Sierra Club has taken out several ads on the Los Angeles Times website attacking the two-term congressman.
The organization points to Knight’s vote to block the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s implementation of the methane rule, which would significantly reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Knight has also voted against climate change legislation and publicly states he is against any type of carbon tax, the group says.
“Steve Knight has repeatedly voted to put polluter interests above the people he represents by undermining clean air and climate action policies that would benefit everyone,” said Matthew Gravatt, Sierra Club’s associate legislative director. “In fact, it seems like he cares more about helping carbon, methane and air pollution prosper than our own kids.”