Capitol Alert

Lawmakers push for ‘environmental justice’ in California carbon reduction policy

Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, is among those who does not believe the current cap-and-trade system is working for her district.
Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, is among those who does not believe the current cap-and-trade system is working for her district. The Sacramento Bee file

Lawmakers frustrated that their communities have not benefited equally in California’s expansive fight against climate change are trying to reframe the debate in a crucial year for the future of state environmental policy.

As Gov. Jerry Brown pushes to extend the cap-and-trade program under which major polluters buy credits for their carbon emissions, new legislation announced Thursday would require state regulators to make “environmental justice” a greater focus in any future policies California adopts to meet its ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals.

Assembly Bill 378 could technically extend cap-and-trade, which expires in 2020, and it authorizes the California Air Resources Board to adopt “a market-based compliance mechanism” to reduce emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. But the lawmakers behind the measure made clear at a press conference that they do not support the program in its current form.

Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, said predominantly low-income and minority communities like the one she represents are disproportionately impacted by greenhouse gas emissions, but have not seen the same jobs and economic development in the green energy sector, or improvements to health and quality of life, that other regions have under the current law.

“It’s not enough just to have cleaner air,” she said. “We have done a lot to reduce carbon emissions, but it hasn’t been equitable across the whole state.”

Brown has made it a priority this year to renew cap-and-trade with a two-thirds vote of the Legislature that would protect it from a lawsuit by business groups arguing it is an illegal tax.

Garcia said she and more than a dozen co-authors of AB 378 are willing to consider a cap-and-trade extension, but are also looking at other mechanisms for carbon reduction that could get “the right benefits in these communities.” The bill, she said, is meant to guide the debate about a replacement “to make sure we have that equal footing before we take the next step.”

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff

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