Author Archives: Quentin Foster

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.

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California Legislature holds key to protecting health of Californians and our climate

The California Legislature is in the midst of a critically important discussion right now: how can the state do more to clean the air for all residents and address climate change?

As a native of South Los Angeles with deep roots in the environmental justice community, I’ve seen first-hand that there’s still more that needs to be done to improve our air quality. At the same time, California is a longtime leader on climate issues, in large part due to its cap-and-trade program that’s successfully limited climate pollution.

Assemblymember Cristina Garcia’s bill, AB 378, though still a work in progress, would provide incentives for major greenhouse gas emitters to reduce localized air pollution, on top of extending a key tool to keep their carbon emissions below a certain limit.

Right now, AB 378 is the only bill in the California Legislature that is seeking to both improve air quality in the most impacted local communities and fight climate change globally. Here’s why we think the Legislature must pass it as soon as possible.

 How we should extend cap and trade

The question we must ask ourselves is not whether we should extend cap and trade – we should, as I explain next – but rather how we can extend it. Three things need to happen for California’s cap-and-trade program to be successfully extended beyond 2020:

  1. The cap-and-trade program itself, which is succeeding in its goal of reducing carbon emissions, should be strengthened. This includes ensuring jobs are created across California neighborhoods – an issue the Legislature is working to address in other proposals – as well as better meeting the needs of rural communities.
  2. Air quality concerns in California’s environmental justice communities must be addressed. There are many suggestions of how this can be done, but this public health issue cannot be ignored.
  3. Cap-and-trade should be passed with a supermajority of votes (2/3 of both the state Assembly and the Senate) this session. That will provide it the greatest legal certainty in a post-2020 program, and inoculate cap and trade from further “illegal tax”-type challenges.

Why we should extend cap and trade now

The best way to continue California’s climate leadership and successful climate policies, is for the Legislature to extend cap and trade beyond 2020 this year with a 2/3 vote.

EDF is advocating for this extension because California’s cap-and-trade program:

  • Provides the certainty needed for a strong and stable climate program. Eliminating post-2020 uncertainty by voting on a cap-and-trade extension this year limits market volatility and creates greater price and revenue predictability. This in turn helps local businesses plan investments, hire new employees, and adopt the next groundbreaking technology.
  • Demonstrates that protecting the environment need not come at the expense of economic growth. California has added over a million jobs since cap and trade launched in 2013, far surpassing the national average. This includes blue-collar jobs in parts of the state plagued by high unemployment. California has also grown to be the sixth largest economy in the world.
  • Reduces greenhouse gas emissions. California is on track to meet its 2020 target of reducing these emissions to 1990 levels. Our 2030 goal is even more ambitious – 40% below 1990 levels – and to be successful we need to start aiming for that target now.

Remember why clean air and a healthy climate matter

There will be important policy to discuss in the coming weeks, but for now let us remember why we are pressing forward on climate and clean air legislation in the first place.

California has many communities that suffer disproportionately from poor air quality caused by major emitters. As someone who grew up in South Los Angeles, I understand the impact dangerous air pollution has on daily life. Like much of San Joaquin Valley, many of California’s most vulnerable communities struggle with some of the worst air quality in the country. More must urgently be done to deal with this public health crisis.

At the same time, all of California, and indeed the world, are facing the unprecedented threat of global climate change. This demands immediate and prolonged action, especially now.

That’s why we must continue California’s renowned climate leadership and pass – as soon as possible – legislation like AB 378 that can provide solutions for both local air pollution and global climate change.

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