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The Racial Justice Flaws in California's Climate Bill

California’s climate change bill has reduced overall greenhouse gas emissions, but not air pollution in black and Latino neighborhoods.
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Rich Pedroncelli/AP

When University of Southern California sociologist Manuel Pastor first heard critiques from environmental justice advocates about AB 32, California’s climate change bill that passed in 2006, he was skeptical. The law, which was expanded just last week, has a cap-and-trade provision, noted for raising beaucoup bucks to help the most vulnerable communities become more resilient to climate change effects. Climate justice activists attacked it, however, arguing it didn’t protect black and brown communities from localized co-pollutant emissions that cause asthma and cancer. Pastor, a leading environmental justice scholar and the director of USC’s Program for Environmental and Regional Equity, thought their concerns were “overblown.”

He now says that they were right. Pastor studied the distribution of co-pollutant emissions among companies registered under AB 32’s cap-and-trade program for a report released Wednesday. He found that many of the state’s worst polluters increased their emissions of localized toxic air pollutants, even as they decreased greenhouse gas emissions. The fact that these polluters operate within close proximity to black and Latino neighborhoods means that the health of residents there is still at risk.