California Models Climate and Air Pollution Action with Balanced Approach

Air pollution visible in downtown Los Angeles | Photo by Diliff, via wikipedia comms

California is once again demonstrating its bold climate leadership. As Washington, D.C. continues to abdicate its role as a climate champion, California is stepping up to extend its landmark cap-and-trade program, address local air pollution, and push California businesses forward toward a cleaner economy.

Environmental Defense Fund strongly supports AB 398 (E. Garcia) and AB 617 (C. Garcia), as well as their authors, Legislative leadership, and the Brown Administration. We commend their vision and initiative on a bill package that addresses the growing threat from climate change and improves public health outcomes by addressing local air pollution in the most impacted neighborhoods.

AB 398: Extending the cap-and-trade program

This bill seeks to extend California’s groundbreaking cap-and-trade program until 2030, with a 2/3 vote. We support this bill for 3 key reasons:

  1. This bill maintains the environmental integrity of California’s cap on emissions. By introducing a price ceiling on allowances, the Air Resources Board with the Legislature’s guidance provides greater certainty on costs. Done poorly, such a ceiling can put environmental outcomes at risk. This proposal addresses that concern by requiring that any excess emissions be made up for by high-integrity emissions reductions outside the cap. This ensures that California does not bust through its emissions cap.
  2. This proposal extends the economic benefits of cap and trade. California has added over a million jobs since cap and trade launched in 2013, and this bill includes important provisions to further develop a green workforce for the 21st century economy. At the same time, cap and trade encourages investments in alternative forms of fuel. This decreases our dependence on fossil fuels, which protects consumers from volatile gas prices.
  3. Extending cap and trade sets a national example for other states to follow. California is on track to meet our 2020 target of reducing emissions to 1990 levels, and the 2030 goal is even more ambitious. We are demonstrating that emissions reduction and a thriving economy can go hand-in-hand. And we will not leave our most vulnerable communities behind.

AB 617: Clean air for California’s most vulnerable communities

The second part of this essential package is an unprecedented air quality bill which seeks to address local air pollution in California’s most impacted neighborhoods. For EDF, these are the 3 main reasons we are committed to supporting this bill:

  1. This measure targets neighborhoods burdened by multiple sources of air pollution. California communities like Richmond, Modesto, or Torrance aren’t polluted by just cars or one refinery – they have many different sources of air pollution. This bill identifies these neighborhoods and focuses monitoring and emissions reduction plans based on burden, rather than source.
  2. Industrial facilities are required to upgrade their technology. There are many facilities that have not been upgraded in decades. This means they emit far more pollution than if current technology were used. This bill requires that industrial sources covered by cap and trade are retrofitted to a standard that reflects technological advances, but are also cost-effective.
  3. This bill increases penalties for big polluters. Many air pollution penalties haven’t been adjusted since the 1970’s. This bill increases these so big polluters no longer have an advantage over facilities that follow the law. This is critically important to hold polluters accountable, especially for the residents who live nearby.

Yes, there is still compromise in politics

California can address climate change without leaving communities behind.

The ability to compromise seems absent from most political arenas these days. The zero-sum strategies of filibusters and government shutdowns are more the norm than a negotiated settlement. However, the California State Senate and Assembly Leadership, along with Governor Brown’s Administration have re-discovered the art of the possible, and isn’t that what politics is all about? They have managed to find the compromise with stakeholders that addresses the twin challenges of climate pollution and air quality.

This package is a path forward that demonstrates to the country and to the world that California can address climate change without leaving communities behind.

There is no silver bullet to accomplish this, despite what we all wish. The environmental community needs businesses to thrive so California’s economy remains strong. Business needs the environmental community to hold them accountable. The Legislature needs all of us to help continue setting the standard on climate policy. We don’t get to take our ball and go home because things aren’t going our way.

As we demonstrate how to address climate change and air pollution, let’s also demonstrate to Washington, D.C. how to compromise. We urge the Legislature to support AB 398 and AB 617.

By Quentin Foster

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