While reading “A Preliminary Environmental Equity Assessment of California’s Cap-And-Trade Program” I am reminded of many things. Mostly I am reminded of 2006 and all the work, negotiations, and fights we had over one little word. May. Specifically “the state board may adopt a regulation that establishes a system of market-based declining annual aggregate emission limits” a system that became Cap-and-Trade. That “may” was a nod to the voices of environmental justice advocates who recognized the inherent flaws of Cap and Trade and the negative impacts it would have on impacted communities. At the time, that one word meant that we would develop real solutions that would both meet our climate targets and address the immediate health impacts associated with pollution. Instead the state decided to put all its eggs in the Cap and Trade basket.
Now, ten years later, we do not know what would have happened if the needs of environmental justice were addressed by decision makers. Who knows how many children would not need inhalers in Fresno or how many babies would come into this world at a healthy birth weight in South LA. One thing I do know is that ten years ago we had an opportunity to take bold action to address existing health disparities in fence line communities and we did not take it.
This report confirms all of our lived experiences with Cap and Trade. This program fails the communities that need real changes the most. Emissions in environmental justice communities are not changing, and when they are, it’s for the worse. The assessment also confirms that the areas most impacted by greenhouse gas emitters are low-income communities of color.
The current system is not working. We need to do better. We need climate solutions that build in equity, and the unique needs of impacted communities, from the start. This means regulations that prioritize public health, neighborhood resiliency, and a just transition to a clean economy. With the passage of SB 32 and AB 197, we have a second chance to be bold, to act on the findings of this report, and to fully explore alternatives to cap-and-trade.