To Slow Climate Change And Speed Up Environmental Justice

07/12/2017 02:12 pm ET Updated Jul 12, 2017

If you value science – as I do – you know that climate change is a fact; a fact that already has detrimental impacts on California.

If you value justice – as I do – you know it is wrong for disadvantaged communities to endure heavy pollution burdens on top of socioeconomic ills.

Two Assembly bills before the California Legislature this month – AB 398 and AB 617 – tackle both issues directly and forcefully.

This package works from goals we established last year.

It starts with the goal outlined in SB 32 – to reach greenhouse gas levels 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 – and offers a working roadmap to achieve that. At the same time, it builds on the goals established in last year’s AB 197. We are updating penalties that haven’t changed since the 1970s, imposing stricter anti-pollution technology requirements and establishing new clean air actions for hardest hit communities.

I don’t have to leave my own district to see how low-income communities are hurt by pollution. The lead contamination of Exide, the hexavalent chromium pollution in Paramount, the toxic magnesium explosion of Maywood, and the emissions of adjacent freeways are daily realities facing my community.

Throughout California, many disadvantaged communities are living side-by-side with industrial facilities that have not been upgraded in decades. Those facilities release pollutants at far higher rates than those using modern technology.

AB 617 will tackle that in several ways, by:

  • Requiring those industrial sources regulated under existing cap-and-trade regulations to be retrofitted to meet modern standards by the end of 2023.
  • Adjusting penalties for violating pollution rules. Because those penalties haven’t been raised in four decades, it’s too easy for facilities to pollute instead of spending to reduce emissions. That only encourages bad actors.
  • Directing the Air Resources Board and local air boards to focus on reducing pollution in areas of the state hit by the worst air pollution.

Polluting facilities and vehicles are obvious, but the consequences of climate change are right in front of our noses, too.

For one thing, wildfires are getting more frequent and severe. This month, the Wall Fire alone has displaced thousands of people and burned dozens of homes to the ground.

At the same time, it’s believed that climate change has a hand in the severity of recent Kern River flooding, as unseasonable heat combined with a deep snowpack resulted in record melt waters flushing downriver, leading to multiple deaths.

Public health is at risk, too, as diseases such as Zika expand their range due to rising temperatures.

These kinds of real problems demand real solutions to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases that contribute to the acceleration of climate change.

AB 398 is how we can hold off more catastrophic climate change effects by cutting California’s greenhouse gas emissions. We can use cap and trade, but add things that will stabilize markets. These changes include:

  • Establishing a limit on the maximum price on allowances sold under the program, reflecting circumstances to minimize impacts to homes and the economy, while minimizing emissions.
  • Focusing on emissions benefits to California.
  • Creating independent review of the economic and environmental impacts of the program.

Building on what we’ve already done required a multi-sided effort. Its success reflects a broad awareness that California can’t stand still when it comes to the dual threats of climate change and pollution in vulnerable communities.

AB 398 and AB 617 assure we have the tools necessary to do three important things:

  • Reach the ambitious 2030 emissions reduction goal we passed last year.
  • Protect and expand our greening economy.
  • Protect our communities’ public health.

We need to get that reduction if we are to turn the corner on climate change. We have built a way to move forward and I am urging every member of the Assembly to support both AB 398 and AB 617.

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