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California Agency Strengthens Decarbonization Plan 

Climate Justice Air California Climate Environmental Justice

This is the first post in a three-part series on recent efforts to place justice and equity at the center of California’s climate plans. Part II and Part III will run October 11 and 12.

In a major victory for climate justice, California regulators recently announced significant improvements to the statewide plan, the AB32 2022 Scoping Plan Update, to reduce carbon emissions in the coming decades. The improvements came in response to guidance from California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), and to many groups and members of the public who called for a more ambitious and equitable plan to significantly reduce carbon emissions by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2045. The plan will be finalized this year.

The California Air Resources Board (CARB), the state agency charged with developing plans to fight climate change, strengthened the plan in response to a letter Newsom sent the agency in July. In his letter, the governor pressed the agency to more quickly reduce the state’s dependence on oil and gas in the transportation and electricity sectors; accelerate the deployment of offshore wind capacity; address pollution and emissions from methane leaks; incorporate goals for carbon removal in the final plan; and more. 

The governor’s letter aligned with public outcry expressing similar themes. Over the summer, environmental and racial justice advocates, including the Center for Progressive Reform, and others decried the plan online and in person during a June hearing and in regional listening sessions in the Bay Area, Los AngelesSan Joaquin Valley and virtually from July through August. 

Advocates and members of the public called for stronger commitments and protections for communities overburdened by pollution from fossil fuels, including diesel trucks, oil wells, and refineries. They also called on the state to use the plan to address the housing crisis, accelerate the deployment of sustainable transportation alternatives, and ensure that low-income people have reliable access to affordable electricity. 

A Stronger Plan

The governor’s leadership and the efforts of advocates worked. 

In September, the agency unveiled modifications to the plan, including more ambitious targets to reduce carbon emissions in the transportation sector (via increased targets for reducing driving, cleaner fuels for cars and airplanes); more offshore wind power and no new natural gas plants in the electricity generation sector; and more homes and buildings outfitted with electric appliances and heat pumps in the building sector. 

The agency also revised their assumptions about controversial strategies like carbon capture and storage (CCS, a largely unproven process of capturing carbon emissions and storing them underground) and carbon dioxide and removal (CDR, the removal of carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere). Models used to inform the scoping plan will now reflect permitting for carbon capture and storage beginning in 2028, instead of 2021. 

The final scoping plan will also include new CCS targets to accelerate the state’s progress towards carbon neutrality; call for safety around pipelines, injection sites, and other carbon capture and storage technology; and to prioritize nature-based carbon sequestration on natural and working lands.

The final plan also better quantifies the impact of climate change on overburdened and underserved communities, which are disproportionately low-wealth people of color. In addition to its assessment of the “social cost of carbon” (the damage to society per extra ton of carbon dioxide emissions), the final plan also includes a “community vulnerability metric” to identify more severe climate burdens in frontline communities and will assess economic impact by household income level and race and ethnicity.

Not Far Enough

The California Air Resources Board presented an overview of these changes at a joint meeting in September between board members and the Environmental Justice Advisory Committee (EJAC), the advisory group established under AB32, which aims to center environmental justice and engage disadvantaged communities in state-level climate planning. Environmental justice committee members welcomed the revisions but also said these changes are only necessary first steps and a more transformative plan is still needed to address historical racism and pollution in the most impacted and burdened communities. 

At the joint meeting (covered in Part II of this series, to be published October 11), EJAC members recommended additional actions and strategies and engaged with CARB board members in a dialogue about including environmental justice priorities and for protections for communities in the final scoping plan. 

Part III, to be published October 12, will examine the $54 billion spending package approved by the legislature and bills recently signed into law that will also significantly accelerate the transition to clean energy. 

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Climate Justice Air California Climate Environmental Justice

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