A coalition of environmental justice and civil rights activists has filed a complaint alleging that cap-and-trade provisions in California’s pioneering program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions discriminate against people of color.
The groups, which represent minority communities, accused the California Air Resources Board of violating the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when it agreed to allow polluters in low-income areas to use carbon offsets to buy their way out of pollution reduction under the state’s global warming reduction plan.
“Cap and trade allows them to buy allowances from other facilities or offsets from out of state or even internationally, denying communities next to refineries and other polluting businesses the benefits that would occur through direct regulation,” said Brent Newell, a lawyer for the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment, which filed the complaint with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Friday.
“It’s discrimination because these communities living very close to cap-and-trade facilities are overwhelmingly populated by people of color,” he said, “and the African American population is disproportionately affected.”
Newell said the groups he represents support – and, in fact, fought against oil companies and global warming skeptics to protect – AB32, the landmark law passed in 2006 that requires California to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.
He said, however, that the groups want to see the benefits on site, in the communities that suffer from disproportionately large numbers of pollution-caused illnesses. The EPA complaint mirrors a lawsuit previously filed by the same groups that is still pending in state court.
Stanley Young, the spokesman for the Air Resources Board, said efforts to reduce greenhouse gases, including cap-and-trade provisions, will benefit every community, but the goal of AB32 was to reduce statewide carbon emissions, not localized smog. There are separate regulations, he said, that control diesel emissions from buses and trucks and restrict smokestack pollution in ports and rail yards.
The board “is well aware of problems in highly impacted communities, and we have taken a wide range of steps to clean up and reduce those pollutants from the facilities that are the biggest risk,” Young said. “We do not know at this point how facilities may choose to fulfill their requirements of the cap-and-trade program and, to date, we haven’t seen a credible scenario where emissions rise.”
The EPA’s office of civil rights now has 20 days to decide whether to accept the complaint. If it is accepted, then regulators will have 180 days to investigate the case and make a preliminary finding.
The complaint cites studies that show that people of color make up 66 percent of the state’s population most heavily hit by pollution, with African Americans making up the vast majority of the victims.
– Via San Francisco Chronicle
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