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Environmental Justice Advocates Call for Stronger Climate Protections for Impacted California Communities

Climate Justice Air California Climate Environmental Justice

This is the second post in a three-part series on recent efforts to place justice and equity at the center of California’s climate plans. The first post and third post are also available on our blog.

Environmental justice advocates are calling on California regulators to strengthen protections for underserved and overburdened communities — which are disproportionately low-wealth communities of color — as the state moves toward finalizing the 2022 Scoping Plan, its economy-wide plan to significantly reduce emissions by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2045. 

The California Air Resources Board (CARB), the agency charged with overseeing the state’s comprehensive climate strategy, recently improved its plan in response to concerns voiced by Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) and a large contingent of environmental and racial justice advocates. 

Even with these changes, advocates say CARB can commit to further actions to deliver a more transformative plan that protects communities that have been overburdened by pollution from fossil fuel extraction, processing, and use for too long.

The issue came to a head at a joint meeting held September 1 between CARB board members and the Environmental Justice Advisory Committee (EJAC) — the body that advises the agency on the plan’s implications for justice and equity — where they discussed further revisions and environmental justice aspects of the state’s final draft plan (known as the 2022 Draft Scoping Plan). 

The EJAC welcomed recent improvements to the draft plan but encouraged CARB to go further. EJAC Co-Chairs Catherine Garupa-White of the Central Valley Air Quality Coalition; Martha Dina Arguello of the Los Angeles chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility; Sharifa Taylor of Communities for a Better Environment, and other environmental justice advocates provided CARB with alternative roadmap to real zero for achieving deeper reductions in emissions and pollution, ensuring a just transition, and for a more coordinated and holistic approach for meeting the state’s climate goals.  

EJAC urged CARB to use its authority to go beyond minimum commitments and include stronger protections for overburdened communities, and implementation actions more consistent with the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 and AB197, which requires CARB to “protect the state’s most impacted and disadvantaged communities.”

 “We have to commit to no increase of fossil fuel pollution in our communities, [and] no increase in water pollution. We can’t continue to threaten the air, water and soil that we depend on for life,” Arguello said. 

Jill Sherman-Warne (Native American Environmental Protection Coalition), a newly appointed tribal representative, requested that CARB conduct more meaningful and substantial consultation with tribal governments required under AB 52 when tribal cultural resources may be affected by a state action. 

“Our tribal policy says that the agency is expected to summarize how the proposed plan is going to affect tribal sovereignty, tribal resources, tribal lands, tribal economic development, tribal cultural practices, and the tribal community in general,” said Sherman-Warne.

The conversation then centered on key environmental justice issues identified by the EJAC and responses from the CARB board members. 

A Productive Exchange

The exchange between the two bodies was productive and provided some clarity on where EJAC and CARB priorities align and diverge. 

  • Phasing out fossil fuels and coordinating a just transition. EJAC asked CARB to commit to specific targets for the phaseout of fossil fuels, including a plan and interim targets for transitioning refineries to address emissions and pollution from the supply of gasoline, diesel, and jet fuels refined in CA and exported out of state, which has increased in recent years, despite state targets to reduce demand for transportation. Several CARB board members echoed the sentiment, and the chair directed CARB staff to call for an interagency working group to manage a more detailed strategy for cross-agency transition away from oil and to implement a just transition for workers and communities impacted by the transition. 
  • Managing pesticides and “climate-smart strategies.” EJAC urged CARB to correct the draft plan’s flawed assumption about the use of synthetic pesticides, which are fossil fuel-intensive and harmful to local air quality and soil health. EJAC called for steeper cuts to the use of synthetic pesticides on natural and working lands and faster adoption of organic agriculture. Committee members also encouraged CARB to seek input on the final draft plan from other agency experts and environmental justice advocates to “groundtruth” proposed “climate-smart strategies.” CARB did not commit to implementing any additional changes or targets, but board members, including the chair, supported closer coordination with the state offices on environmental health, food and agriculture, and natural resources to develop and implement climate-smart strategies, and some voiced support for more agency coordination.

Clashes over Controversial Proposals

CARB and EJAC clashed over controversial issues, such as the role of “cap and trade” and carbon capture and storage (CCS) (unproven strategies to slow climate change by capturing carbon emissions and storing them underground).

  • The Role of Cap and Trade. EJAC asked CARB to review the state’s cap and trade program, which allows companies to bank allowances for carbon emissions for future use (“allowance banking”) that do not align with 2030 target emission limits. EJAC called on the state to bar facilities operating within underserved communities from banking allowances and trading emissions credits. CARB members voiced different views over the role the draft scoping plan should play in regulating the cap and trade program, and the chair deferred questions about allowance banking and environmental justice impacts to a forthcoming rulemaking on allowances next year.
  • Carbon Capture and Storage. EJAC requested that CARB reevaluate assumptions about carbon capture and storage and further delay the deployment of CCS based on the lack of scientific consensus on the effectiveness and safety of CCS, and from a lens of racial and ethnic equity. EJAC asked CARB to consider first proven strategies for eliminating emissions before implementing highly uncertain CCS technology, and to keep CCUS projects out of communities that are already overburdened by fossil fuel pollution. Chair Randolph acknowledged that there are many unknowns about CCUS but reiterated that CARB will continue to include CCS as part of the state’s climate strategy. Governor Newsom has stated that carbon neutrality goals aren’t possible without CCS but said CCS should be “equitable and safe.” New legislation now prohibits the use of CCS for enhanced oil recovery. 

In addition to these recommendations, EJAC also requested clarification from CARB on procedural questions, including on dedicated resources and staff support for a permanent EJAC, and on whether updated models and environmental assessments will be released ahead of the final draft. EJAC submitted their final recommendations to CARB on September 30. The final plan is expected to be finalized later this year. 

To learn more, read the first post in this series subscribe to our email list, and follow us on Twitter, Facebook,Instagram, and LinkedIn.

Climate Justice Air California Climate Environmental Justice

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