environmental justice

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Doctors Expect Climate Change to Worsen Lung Diseases

In some parts of California air quality is already a big issue

This post originally appeared on KQED’s State of Health blog.

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Farming in the Central Valley contributes to the poor air quality there.

As if there wasn’t already enough to worry about, now doctors are predicting that climate change will harm people’s respiratory health. The American Thoracic Society is so concerned it filed a report with two goals. The Society not only wants to raise awareness with doctors so they can take preventive measures with their patients but also is enticing researchers to take on the question for further study. They found that climate change has a direct impact on air quality. A hotter climate, wildfires, more pollen in the air and rates of airborne diseases are worsening respiratory health worldwide.

Climate change will likely affect different places in different ways, but in California it could mean hotter summers and more wildfires. The itchy eyes and sneeze-inducing allergies that plague many people during pollen season could also hang around longer if weather patterns continue to change. All of that is bad for asthmatics, children and the elderly, but also for poor people – as it turns out.

“It was really an eye opener for us,” said Kent Pinkerton, a professor of pediatrics at UC Davis and the lead author on the report. “We were really not aware of the implications of change in temperature on respiratory health. But it really is a global issue. It’s not just a concern for here in our country,” he added. In some parts of Africa and Turkey desertification and increased particulates in the air have already forced people to relocate, often into cramped conditions, which further heightens their risk for respiratory diseases.

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The Unequal Effects of Climate Change

Low-income communities in CA are more vulnerable to climate change-related health risks

GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images

The most at-risk families are lower-income and live in more urban areas than the less vulnerable familes.

A study by the California Department of Public Health finds that people in poorer areas of Los Angeles and Fresno Counties are more at risk of ill health effects from climate change than those in wealthier neighborhoods. The report found that in LA, neighborhoods on the coast were the most vulnerable, mostly because of sea-level rise, though it also blamed “poor public transit, wildfire risk, and a large proportion of elderly living alone.” In Fresno, there were similar issues (aside from the obvious fact that sea-level rise won’t directly affect the landlocked county).

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Activists to Air Board: Keep the Cap, Lose the Trade

Regulators vote to keep cap-and-trade plan on track

Cal-Span

A parade of environmental justice proponents pleaded with officials to abandon cap-and-trade. A woman in the background holds a sign that says: "Keep the cap. Drop the Trade."

Members of the “environmental justice” movement lost a major round to air officials on Wednesday, when the latter voted to keep California’s nascent cap-and-trade plan on track.

The program is a key component of the state’s landmark strategy to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

Activists sued to stop the program, claiming it does little to curb toxic emissions from industrial facilities and farming operations.

Environmental justice advocates packed the Sacramento hearing room of the Air Resources Board to fight the state’s plan to allow corporate trading of carbon pollution rights. Marie Harrison of San Francisco’s Bayview district put it succinctly:

“We are relying on you to do what you were put here for and that is to protect us.” Continue reading

Air Board Hands in its Homework

Issues court-ordered do-over of alternatives to cap & trade

In response to a court ruling (which it’s still appealing), the California Air Resources Board today issued a new analysis of its proposed carbon trading program, weighed against several alternative means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Oil refineries are among California's biggest emitters of greenhouse gases. (Photo: Craig Miller)The fresh look includes the original five options, including cap & trade and the option of doing nothing at all. It does not add any new options but rather seeks to flesh out the other three. The non-trading options include regulating emissions at the source, implementing a straight-up tax on carbon emissions, and a mixed bag of actions. The reworked analysis expands discussion of those three alternatives from a few pages to more than 60. It will be up to the courts to decide whether the extra paper carries enough substance with it to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act. Continue reading

Court: Most of AB 32 May Go Forward

But the Cap & Trade Program Remains on Hold

Friday provided another blip in a confusing court fight over California’s centerpiece climate law, known as AB 32.

A “final” ruling from a Superior Court judge in San Francisco allows most implementation of the 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act to go forward, except for the carbon trading plan known widely as “cap & trade.” Regulators at the California Air Resources Board (ARB) will have to flesh out their prior assessment of alternatives to cap & trade that could also result in reducing the state’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

Analysis of those alternatives is required under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). While ARB officials still insist that their original work was adequate under the law, groups representing an “environmental justice” agenda had sued, claiming that alternatives had not been fully explored. Continue reading

In Cap and Trade Fight, EJ Groups Offer Options

Photo: Craig Miller

Suspend cap-and-trade, or stop the whole show.

Those are the options offered by the environmental justice groups who won a court ruling against the California Air Resources Board (CARB) in March. The groups were seeking to halt cap-and-trade over health concerns for communities located near industrial polluters. A California Superior Court judge ruled that CARB had violated state environmental law by not adequately considering alternatives to cap-and-trade, and suspended all 68 regulations that implement California’s global warming law, AB 32, until the board complies.

The two sides entered negotiations to find ways for the state to move forward with parts of AB 32 other than cap-and-trade, but those talks broke down on March 30.

Today, the environmental justice groups submitted their final documentation to the court, proposing two options. Continue reading

Emissions Trading May Not Worsen Local Pollution

Study could weaken underpinnings of suit holding up AB 32

Trees killed by acid rain. (Photo: bdk)

In response to a court order, California regulators say they are working up a “very robust analysis” of alternatives to cap & trade, a critical part of the state’s AB 32 climate law.

Right now, the entire implementation plan is on hold, after environmental justice groups sued the Air Resources Board.

A lower court ruling has forced state officials to reexamine the carbon trading program, on the grounds that alternative ways of controlling emissions were not adequately considered.

The activists’ concern is that a market-based system of emission reductions will create “hot spots” in low-income communities of color as industrial polluters buy the rights (called allowances, or carbon credits) to emit more greenhouse gases, and potentially bring other more toxic forms of pollution into nearby communities.

But will that happen? Since carbon trading won’t start until at least next year, the argument is hypothetical. But another example of emissions trading has been well tested.
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Goldman Prize Winners Reflect Energy, Water Concerns

2011 Prize winner Ursula Sladek (Photo: Goldman Environmental Prize)

The 2011 Goldman Environmental Prize winners were honored in San Francisco last night. In a ceremony at the Opera House, they were each awarded $150,000 for their grassroots work addressing pressing environmental issues around the world.

Environmental degradation from energy production is a common theme in the work of at least half the winners: Dmitry Lisitsyn, who’s worked to protect the ecosystems of Sakhalin Island from rapid destruction caused by companies exploiting the region’s petroleum reserves; Hilton Kelley, for environmental justice work on the Texas Gulf Coast, a region plagued with air-quality-related health problems due to emissions from the major refineries and petrochemical plants in the area; and Ursula Sladek, who created Germany’s first cooperatively-owned renewable power company. Continue reading

AB 32 Negotiations Stalled: Climate Plan in Limbo

Litigants can’t come to terms on letting part of the law proceed

Environmental justice groups say California's carbon trading program would make pollution worse for communities near major polluters. (Photo: Alison Hawkes)

Prospects for full implementation of California’s 2006 climate change law turned a darker shade of gray this week. Environmental justice groups walked away from negotiations with state officials. The talks were intended to allow certain portions of the plan to move forward even as the carbon trading program remained tied up in litigation.

That means implementation of AB 32 is effectively at a standstill.

“At this point my clients consider negotiations over,” said Brent Newell, a lead attorney in the case representing a dozen environmental justice groups and individuals. Continue reading

Another Wrench in AB 32

Air board will appeal ruling on implementation of AB 32

Environmental justice advocates will tell you they never intended to shut down the state’s whole climate law, when they filed suit against it. But a broadly-worded court decision could put some or all implementation of AB 32 on hold.

Waste gases are burned off at the ConocoPhillips refinery in Rodeo. (Photo: Craig Miller)

The ruling, which was rendered last Friday by a state superior court in San Francisco and made public yesterday, finds that in putting together its implementation (scoping) plan, the California Air Resources Board failed to give adequate weight to potential alternatives to cap & trade.

Judge Ernest Goldsmith issued the ruling:

“…enjoining any further implementation of the measures contained in the scoping plan until after (the Air Board) has come into complete compliance with its obligations under its certified regulatory programs and CEQA (the California Environmental Quality Act).

The broad wording of that would seem at odds with the assessment of CARB chair Mary Nichols, who, in an interview on Friday, described the likely ruling to me as “a tempest in a teapot.” Continue reading