Climate benefits, community safeguards can come together

As the state continues to tackle climate change, we must ensure that our policy solutions provide equal protection to all Californians. Our low-income and minority communities are overburdened with the harmful effects of poor air quality. Statewide solutions must not overlook these communities, but rather move to protect and strengthen them. California’s landmark Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006—AB 32—promised to protect such communities, yet these very communities are still waiting for AB 32’s promises to be fulfilled.

No other state in the country experiences air pollution quite like California. Our state’s cities and counties have the unfortunate distinction of consistently appearing on top ten lists for the nation’s worst air pollution. A majority of greenhouse gas emissions come from sources in our own backyards, such as refineries, power plants and various modes of transportation. We must invest in a climate solution that combats unhealthful air quality and greenhouse gases simultaneously. And, though climate change is a global phenomenon, our solutions should be geared to provide benefits locally.

California’s current climate fluctuations, including heat waves, wildfires and droughts, are likely to increase in intensity and frequency due to the climate crisis. While we take steps to reduce these effects, we will continue to experience their impacts for decades to come. Those with lesser resources will be hardest hit, and least able to defend themselves unless we ensure that all Californians are equally and adequately protected.

Of course, no one can forget the images of Hurricane Katrina and the many residents left behind. Certainly, many Californians can recall the heat waves of 2006. Emergency rooms across the state were inundated with as many as 23 times the usual amount of patients. Unfortunately, there were nearly 150 preventable deaths during that time. This experience has taught us that we must be prepared for incidents of this nature. We must invest in cooling centers, transportation to these safe havens, and emergency prevention and preparedness among others.

Recognizing these opportunities and challenges, we are pushing forth legislation in the state legislature. Assembly Bill 1405 establishes a Community Benefits Fund to direct a portion of the revenues generated through the implementation of AB 32 to help Californians who are least able to confront the expected impacts of the climate crisis at a local level. In anticipation of revenues generated by any market-based mechanism to implement AB 32—whether a carbon tax, carbon fee or cap-and-trade—AB 1405 directs 30 percent of those revenues to help fulfill AB 32’s promise to protect. AB 1405 is co-authored by Assemblymembers Kevin de León and V. Manuel Perez, and a slew of other legislators. The bill is co-sponsored by the Coalition for Clean Air, State Office of the NAACP, Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment, and the Greenlining Institute. The bill is currently in Senate Appropriations.

AB 1405 is very timely, considering the California Air Resources Board is in the initial stages of designing California’s climate change program. It is lawful that the California Legislature, as the appropriating body of government, provides the necessary direction to help inform and guide the design of California’s program. That’s probably why this bill has received such wide support and mounting momentum. If you care about protecting every Californian and strengthening every neighborhood, then join us in propelling our state to ensure equal climate protection with real community benefits.

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