Update on AB 32 Cap-And-Trade Battle: Lip service for Environmental Justice?

Posted by Alan Ramo

On August 24, 2011, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) once again unanimously approved its alternatives and environmental analysis supporting its greenhouse gas cap-and-trade program.  This second round of approval, this time after a more thorough environmental review, and after providing its response to comments, was made to address the outstanding lawsuit against its past approval of the program, which has been followed on this blog.    The question remains, however, whether CARB still plans to address the environmental justice issues that have been raised with real mitigation.

While dozens of environmental justice activists appeared in opposition, other environmental organization like Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Defense and the American Lung Association supported the program.  News articles from the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle are linked and describe the unanimous vote of the Board.

Of interest to this blog are reported statements from Board Executive Director Mary Nichols and the Board that they will take a hard look at the environmental justice issues.   The SF Chronicle article linked above reports that Nichols said Governor Brown “has asked the Environmental Protection Agency to work on a more comprehensive approach to environmental justice issues.”  The Los Angeles Times said the Board “would consider a fund drawn from carbon trading revenues to improve environmental conditions in low-income communities.”

A fund from trading revenues for that portion of the program involving auctioned credits has been sought for years by environmental justice advocates.  The fund would provide programs to reduce emissions in low-income communities to assure that trading would not perpetuate or even exacerbate emissions in case companies jacked up production or maintained production protected by the purchase of what some fear would be illusory credits.   Trading irregularities or market failures occur frequently in cap-and-trade schemes, most recently with the Acid Rain Program where SO2 prices have dived to just $3 for a ton of credit allowances.

However, after CARB provided assurances about an environmental justice fund, a proposed bill, SB 535 by Sen. Kevin De Leon (D-Los Angeles), providing for such a fund was derailed.  According to Inside Cal/EPA in an article on September 2, 2011, accessible on Lexis in the news section for those with law school accounts, a legislative squabble on other matters with the Assembly Speaker John Perez (D-Los Angeles) doomed the bill for now.  But the article also referred to a knowledgeable environmentalist who said the Air Resources Board is perceived to be in opposition as they are doing their own deal-making with utilities and other businesses on how to help lower-income residents.

The good news is that the Air Resources Board seems to be trying to do something about environmental justice.  The bad news is that it has yet to approve such an approach, it seems to be unsupportive of legislative action and yet it is moving ahead with the cap-and-trade program after tidying up its past legal problems without an environmental justice fund.  This blog will follow whether CARB is providing more than lip service to environmental justice.

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