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Diane Bailey’s Blog

Climate Policies that Deliver What Communities Need

Diane Bailey

Posted September 27, 2012 in Curbing Pollution, Environmental Justice, Health and the Environment, Solving Global Warming

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What if the stroke of a pen could direct more resources to disadvantaged communities? What if we could double health benefits from measures that reduce greenhouse gas emissions? And what if we could move the biggest toxic polluters to the top of the list for facility upgrades and efficiency improvements?  All of these are possible as part of a comprehensive climate strategy that focuses action where the added benefits to society are greatest.  These are part of a broader set of recommendations to maximize community, public health and air quality benefits of climate policies, issued last week in Cooling the Planet, Clearing the Air: Climate Policy, Carbon Pricing, and Co-Benefits.

This report is interesting because it evaluates major greenhouse gas emitting sources across the country to determine which sectors have the highest intensity of air pollution, with the intent of targeting climate policy to rein in the largest and most toxic polluters first.  The report builds on two earlier studies, Minding the Climate Gap, and The Climate Gap, which illustrate how low-income communities and those of color are much more vulnerable to the impacts of global warming as they have far more adverse health impacts and they suffer economically; and consider strategies on how to address these inequities. 

The Cooling the Planet report confirms previous finding that the oil refining sector packs the worst air pollution punch of the major greenhouse gas emitters, with the impacts concentrated most in disadvantaged communities.  Together with refineries, power plants and chemical plants account for over 90 percent of industrial CO2 emissions and also impose the greatest air pollution burden on minorities. That makes these industries the best targets for policies to reduce carbon emissions because as we noted in a much earlier report, Boosting the Benefits, the carbon and air pollutant emissions are so closely tied – requirements to reduce carbon have profoundly positive results for air quality and public health.

Cooling the Planet makes a solid case for a long list of important recommendations maximizing the benefits of climate policies and directing them to communities that can use them the most.  Several stand out as urgent priorities:

  • Allocate a share of carbon revenues to community benefit funds – California’s Senate Bill 535, which currently awaits the Governor’s signature, would ensure that a percentage of cap and trade revenues are directed to the most disadvantaged communities. Please take action to support this bill.
  • Designate petroleum refineries and chemical manufacturers as high-priority sectors – These two sectors account for disproportionately large air pollution burdens on minority and low-income communities, making them worthy of a concentrated, high priority clean-up effort.
  • Designate high-priority zones – Areas where major carbon and air pollution intensive sources are concentrated should be prioritized for action.
  • Designate high-priority facilities – Any industrial facilities that rank in the top 5% in co-pollutant emissions should similarly by prioritized or action.

As California and other states, regions, cities and hopefully someday, our federal government, move forward with climate policies, these recommendations provide an opportunity to undo some of the gross inequities of industrial air pollution in disadvantaged communities here at home and across the nation.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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