Under-radar bill focuses on polluters in poverty areas


The negotiating that accompanied the cap-and-trade bill also claimed aspects of Garcia’s air bill. She characterized it as a much-needed first step — even going so far as to give her legislation the modest hashtag #downpayment.

Most environmental justice groups saved their fiercest criticism for the cap-and-trade bill, which some termed a “deal with the devil,” a reference to the measure’s many compromises with the state’s oil and gas industry. But the pollution bill had its critics, too, who said it didn’t go far enough.

“The way Ms. Garcia framed it is absolutely correct; it’s a down payment,” said Amy Vanderwarker, co-director of California Environmental Justice Alliance. “It has some good provisions. However, there’s a lot of things that have to be fixed.”

The most debated portion of the Garcia bill tries to close a loophole under the current cap-and-trade law that allows industrial facilities to avoid retrofitting old, less-efficient equipment by purchasing greenhouse-gas offsets and continuing to pollute.

But in addressing one cap-and-trade loophole, Garcia’s bill appears to open another: While it requires local air boards to establish equipment-retrofitting programs, facilities could continue to trade pollution credits rather than replace older equipment. That’s because the original law’s language was not stricken.

During floor debate, Garcia made it clear that she did not intend to create that loophole, but the language remained in the version that passed July 17.

To Vanderwarker, that aspect of the bill and others will have to be revisited. “We hope to work with Ms. Garcia and clean up that provision,” she said.

The bill also requires expanded monitoring of local polluters and directs the state Air Resources Board to gather expanded emissions reporting data and publish them on its website.

Without outlining specific guidelines or standards, the bill requires the air board to devise a statewide plan to reduce pollution in heavily affected communities. The board has until October 2018 to create the plan, which it must update at least every five years.

The bill also increases the maximum fine for air pollution violations from non-vehicular sources to $5,000 from $1,000.

“Those are very positive things,” said Brent Newell, legal director of the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment. “Cristina Garcia deserves a ton of credit for pushing this issue and pushing hard to get what is in this bill.”

Newell said the air board, the governor and state lawmakers will have to be held accountable for the bill to retain any teeth. The way the bill is implemented, he said, “will determine its benefit for communities of color. A lot of Californians depend on this bill.”

Julie Cart is a reporter for CALmatters, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture devoted to explaining California policies and politics.

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