Air & Climate Justice
Despite California’s reputation as a leader on climate and environmental issues, Los Angeles is home to some of the worst air pollution in the country. The region routinely fails to meet federal air quality standards, and suffers from high levels of ozone pollution and smog. Los Angeles is also home to widespread urban oil drilling, which drives air pollution and global climate change, while harming the health of local residents. Air pollution is linked to higher rates of asthma, respiratory problems, and cancer risk. In particular, low-income communities and communities of color are more likely to live in close proximity to the facilities that pollute the air and warm the planet, and experience worse health outcomes as a result of these exposures.
PSR-LA’s Air & Climate Justice program works to protect vulnerable communities by reducing emissions that harm human health and hasten global climate change. This includes advocating for direct emission reductions at both regional and state levels, working to end oil drilling in Los Angeles, and ensuring that we transition to an economy that is fueled by clean, renewable energy and that provides economic benefits to all communities without harming health.
What are the problems?
- Throughout California, low-income communities and communities of color are disproportionately burdened by environmental health hazards. Race is the most significant predictor of whether a person lives near contaminated air, water, or soil. People of color make up more than half of the population living near toxic waste sites.
- South Los Angeles is ranked in the top 10% most polluted communities in the state, and is overburdened with industrial facilities, hazardous waste, and contaminated land.
- Air quality is intrinsically linked to land-use patterns where the designation of land often dictates the type of industry located there. Historically, city planning did not prioritize the separation of hazardous land uses from sensitive populations. As such, the result is clusters of incompatible land uses that are disproportionately concentrated in South LA.
- Several Los Angeles communities are surrounded by facilities that emit toxic pollution. In South Los Angeles — predominately a community of color — roughly one-fifth of its residents live within 500 feet to harmful land uses and major sources of pollution such as high volume truck routes, highways, and other unwanted land uses, such as manufacturing, oil refining and chemical plants.
- South Los Angeles lacks green spaces and parks, as well as sufficient transit and active transportation infrastructure, and is facing an affordable housing crisis.
- Residents of South Los Angeles are expected to live nearly 12 years less than residents of Brentwood, in addition to experiencing higher rates of lung cancer, coronary heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
How do these problems impact a person’s health?
- Research links industrial pollution exposure to significant health impacts, including low birth-weight, heart attack, stroke, and the development of chronic diseases such as asthma, cancers, learning disabilities, and reproductive problems and now heightened mortality for COVID-19.
- Sensitive receptors, such as overexposed low-income and communities of color, children, pregnant women, and seniors are most at risk of long-term exposure to air pollution and are more likely to develop or exacerbate chronic diseases such as asthma.
- It is estimated that in California 9,000 deaths a year, 7,200 premature deaths, 1,900 hospitalizations, and 5,200 emergency room visits are attributed to exposure to particulate matter pollution.
- Oil extraction practices operate next to our homes, schools, and hospitals. People living near oil extraction sites routinely experience health symptoms such as nosebleeds, headaches, dizziness, and nausea, along with nuisances like odors and noise from operations.1
- Oil extraction techniques use large quantities of chemicals that are harmful to human health, including known carcinogens and endocrine disruptors.2
- Human health is impacted by climate change, and these effects are felt first and worst by low-income communities of color. If left unaddressed, existing health disparities will be exacerbated.
- Healthy environments create healthy communities. In an equitable world, where you live should not determine whether you have clean air to breathe.
What are the solutions?
- We need strong policies at the local, county, state, and national levels that protect health, address the disproportionate harms felt by low-income communities and communities of color, and transition us away from fossil fuels and towards clean energy sources.
- Ending neighborhood drilling is the local climate fight in Los Angeles. If we can stop urban oil extraction and keep it in the ground here where people live, we can stop climate change at the source, while also improving health for frontline communities.
- In order to help cool the planet and clean up the air, we need regulations that directly reduce emissions at the source, rather than incentive and market-based solutions that allow industries to pay to pollute.
- We need to foster a just and thriving economy that provides jobs and other economic benefits for communities and former fossil fuel industry employees without compromising their health.
- Regulating short-lived climate pollutants is a key piece of an aggressive climate and air strategy. Due to their shorter lifespan in the atmosphere, reducing these super pollutants will bring short and long term benefits for both the climate and air quality.
- Climate investments should not only focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but should also be directly invested in the low-income communities and communities of color that are disproportionately impacted by climate change and its related health impacts.
PSR-LA has played a key role in the fight for clean air and climate justice, working in close partnership with community-based organizations to build regional and statewide coalitions that transform public debate on oil and gas as an environmental health and justice issue. PSR-LA prioritizes partnerships with community-based organizations rooted in Los Angeles and California’s frontline working class communities of color. Our closest partners are Communities for a Better Environment, Esperanza Community Housing, Black Women for Wellness, SCOPE, East Communities for Environmental Justice and Pacoima Beautiful.
PSR-LA co-founded and co-chairs Standing Together Against Neighborhood Drilling (STAND-LA), a coalition for working class communities of color fighting to end oil drilling in Los Angeles. Additionally, through our work in the Voices in Solidarity Against Oil in Neighborhoods (VISION) Coalition and Last Chance Alliance, we partner with organizations across the state to advocate for health and safety buffer zones between oil and gas extraction sites and sensitive community areas, such as homes and schools. We also advocate for just transition policies to ensure that fossil fuel workers can transition to safer jobs in sustainable industries, as well as the full cleanup and repurposing of land previously polluted by toxic oil sites.
PSR-LA also co-founded the LA Leap Coalition, which centers frontline communities and their interests as the City of Los Angeles develops climate and environmental policy with the framework of “decarbonizing, detoxifying and democratizing Los Angeles’ economy. We have since won the establishment of a new Climate Emergency Mobilization Office, a Climate Emergency Commission and Community Assemblies with strong representation from frontline residents. As the City of Los Angeles and state of California develop policies to reduce the carbon footprint of existing and new buildings, the LA Leap Coalition and other partners are working to ensure that these policies also promote economic, racial and housing justice.
Additionally, through the South LA Project to Understand the Sources and Health Impacts of Local Air Pollution (SCLA-PUSH), a collaborative initiative led by PSR-LA, we mobilize stakeholders to assess the scale and gravity of local air pollution in South Los Angeles and work together to produce a roadmap for achieving the transformation of the community’s air, primarily through community-driven and innovative technology solutions rooted in environmental justice. We are now working with community members on the development and implementation of a state-funded Community Air Improvement Plan through the AB617 Community Air Protection Program. This plan can provide a stronger regulatory platform to carry out a Just Transition, clean production, and economic justice approach to address air pollution burden and create needed health protections for South LA communities. Collectively, through our SCLA-PUSH work and AB617 engagement we are working to advance a vision for greener, healthier and more just environments across California.
LEAP-LA is a coalition of grassroots environmental and climate justice organizations representing some of the neighborhoods most heavily impacted by environmental racism and most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.
How to Get Involved
Sign up for our monthly e-newsletter, attend an upcoming PSR-LA event, follow us on social media, or become a member of PSR-LA today. If you’re a health professional, you can also participate in our Health Ambassador Program.