We're used to big polluters mounting legal challenges to efforts to get them to clean up their acts. But the ongoing legal challenge to California's groundbreaking climate law seemed to come out of left field — from environmental justice groups concerned with the disproportionate effects of pollution on low-income and minority people.
A quick look at the overlap of big polluters and such populations on a state map is makes it pretty clear than these populations breathe dirtier air. And several groups — including The Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment — who have sued the state over over AB 32 claim that, because cap and trade regimes don't force in-state polluters to stop polluting, the law won't meet its own stated goal of providing the most technically feasible benefits to California residents.
The claim contradicts the state's own research, says Tim O'Connor of the mainstream green group Environmental Defense Fund. "Both (the Air Resources Board) and the California Department of Public Health evaluated the potential impacts of a cap-and-trade program," he explained, "and found that the regulation was not likely to cause any adverse impacts to public health and welfare – especially if money raised from the program is reinvested in California communities to help protect against the impacts of climate change."
It's a big if: A bill requiring such investments was vetoed by outgoing governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. A similar bill will likely be introduced this year, but its fate remains uncertain.
Brent Newell, lead council for the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment underscored that the plaintiffs in the suit against the state "support reducing greenhouse gasses because they know global warming has negative and disproportionate effects in their communities."
A judge found last week that the state Air Resources Board had not delivered an adequate Environmental Impact Report, which would have potentially have required it to consider methods of reducing carbon emissions other than cap and trade. Progressive groups have long been critical of the market-based approach designed by financial institutions, favoring a carbon tax.