Editorial: Why a fossilized gas station is the perfect symbol for California’s climate fight

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When officials gathered last week to dedicate California’s new Vehicle Emissions Testing and Research Facility in Riverside, their backdrop was a limestone statue of a fossil gas station.

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California is full of contradictions when it comes to moving away from fossil fuels. We are a climate leader and we have some of the worst air pollution in the country. We want to end the sale of new gas-powered cars, yet we won’t stop drilling for oil.

But the State Air Resources Board’s decision to make a line of petrified gas pumps its centerpiece New $419 Million Facility In the foggy inland empire? The symbolism is perfect.

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This leaves no doubt about the next step in California’s decades-long war against smog: the elimination of fossil fuels that pollute the air and heat the planet.

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It would be easy to mock state officials for turning over a $450,000 statue by Jennifer Ellora and Guillermo Calzadilla and using heavy scissors to cut the gas pump hose instead of ribbon. Where else would people be so confidently anticipating the death of the oil industry besides California, at a time when gas prices have hit all-time highs?

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But we should welcome the clear message from California leaders about what our future should look like. Leaving fossil fuels in the rearview mirror and forcing internal combustion engines into obsolescence is needed to prevent catastrophic warming of the planet and reduce health damage in chronically polluted communities. Suggesting otherwise is alarming and laughable at this point.

More important than the public art of the new building is the work that will continue inside. The complex, which is replacing a nearly 50-year-old facility in El Monte, includes space to test engines and emissions from passenger cars, motorcycles, lawn and garden equipment, and the largest heavy-duty trucks and buses. A state-of-the-art chemistry laboratory. It was funded, in part, with fines paid by Volkswagen in connection with the 2015 diesel emissions fraud scandal, which state vehicle testing experts helped uncover.

It is significant that the facility will be in Riverside, a location that “has always been the center of the fight against haze,” said Mary Nichols, the former longtime Air Resources Board chair for whom the campus is named. said.

In recent years, the Inland Empire has seen less long-term air quality benefits from climate change, rising temperatures and warehouse development and the explosion in diesel trucks. And air quality regulators have been criticized for doing little to protect those who need it most, including communities of color who are exposed to high levels of pollution. Maybe this new outpost, closer to a major, truck-loaded highway in an area that has had more than 150 bad wind days this year, will inspire them to do better.

Still, I couldn’t help noticing it one of the sponsors of the dedication ceremony The Southern California Gas Company, which has insisted on keeping fossil fuels in our homes and communities for as long as possible, is responsible for the largest methane gas leak in American history.

Air Resources Board spokesman Stanley Young told me that sponsorships by the gas company and other donors were limited to $5,000 and “we see each sponsor as a role in the effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and stem the transition.” . from petroleum.”

It goes to show that California’s road to a low-carbon future will be bumpy, sometimes hypocritical, and often undermined by its lofty rhetoric. But you still have to appreciate the clarity of sight that sees fossil fuel stations becoming, well, fossils.

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