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Spreading the Benefits from CA's Clean Air Law

New America Media, Interview, Ngoc Nguyen Posted: Jan 08, 2010

Editors Note: The Copenhagen summit on climate change last month produced few results from nations who participated. But California has been advancing environmental policies that are models for other state and even federal laws. The 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act is a good example. It mandates reductions in carbon dioxide emissions to 1990 levels in the next 10 years.

That should be good news for communities where air pollution is at unhealthy levels, but some environmental advocates say the state Air Resources Board (ARB), which will implement the law, must ensure that all Californians benefit. New America Media environmental editor Ngoc Nguyen spoke with Nidia Bautista, policy director for the Coalition for Clean Air, about what the state can do to protect communities most impacted by pollution and climate change.

How does the new law help low-income communities where pollution and hazardous climate conditions pose risks?

Bautista: The law [AB 32] has specific language that says Californias most disadvantaged communities would be protected and benefited. The law also says were not going to increase pollution in communities that already suffer from high levels of pollution.

In order to achieve this, the ARB has to identify which neighborhoods theyre talking about. [The ARB] will come up with draft maps this year that clarify which neighborhoods are disadvantaged, such as communities with high air pollution that are low income. They dont have resources to get out of harms way. There will be more heat waves and flooding coming with climate change. Hurricane Katrina made visible those who are most vulnerable in a natural disaster. Many poor people didnt have cars to get out of harms way. They suffered, many lost their lives, health or property. As a state, we need to ensure that we protect those communities.

How will researchers do this, and when will the data be made public?

Bautista: California has already invested in research to identify these neighborhoods, researchers from USC, Occidental [College] and UCB, developed this tool through GIS mapping. Using geographical info, you can actually do a map of the state, and look at pollution sources and overlay with social economic information -- income level and educational attainment are examples of indicators you can plug into the tool to identify neighborhoods where we really need to pay attention to make those investments.

Why is this information useful to communities of color or low-income communities?

Its very likely the state will collect funds as it implements this law. There will have to be a price on carbon and the state will go through some sort of market mechanism. Whatever the mechanism -- the state has already indicated it will pursue cap and trade the state will start to collect funds as a result of pricing carbon and revenues should start coming in in 2012. Some economists estimate the state could collect anywhere from $2 billion to $12 billion a year. Were proposing that 30 percent of any revenue generated should go toward the community. The [community benefits] fund could help them to reduce pollution locally and deal with expected public health impacts; for example, to deal with heat waves, funds could go toward building cooling centers or a shuttle to help people without transportation get there.

This is an opportunity to direct investment to these neighborhoods that are near sources of pollution, at the local level to reduce pollution. The funds could clean up a factory that is polluting, help people access transportation or build cooling centers.

Under a cap and trade system, polluters can buy pollution credits and avoid making changes, so people that live nearby wont benefit from cleaner air. Will AB 32 achieve a net reduction in pollution in all neighborhoods?

Bautista: Theres no guarantee the benefits of those reductions will be experienced in the same way in every community across the state. When you put trading into it, it wont be equal. There will be some communities that suffer more pollution. Thats the reality [under cap and trade], and what were saying is to recognize that and find a way to direct more investment to those neighborhoods because they need it the most. We prefer to see a program that prevents an increase in pollution, but California is moving down a path where there will be trading [of pollution credits].

The Coalition for Clean Air will host a community forum on the Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32) on January 30 in Stockton.

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