Ventura County Star: Cap-and-trade shouldn't sacrifice clean air

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Cap-and-trade shouldn't sacrifice clean air
Ventura County Star | Jim Hines, Special to The Star
7.29.2017

The cap-and-trade bill fight in Sacramento was about as confusing as any legislative battle ever gets.

On the one side, you had some very well-known environmental groups and the governor working to pass the legislation, Assembly Bill 398.

On the other, you had some very well-known environmental groups and nearly every environmental justice group in the state opposing the bill.

What gives?

A group I have devoted much of my time volunteering for, the Sierra Club, was one of the bill's opponents. Why did we diverge from the governor on this big bill addressing climate pollution?

First, we’ve never been big fans of cap-and-trade programs. They aren’t the most efficient or fastest way to reduce pollution. Direct regulations, from tailpipe emissions rules to requirements that utilities produce more electricity from renewable energy, all have a proven track record for rapidly achieving pollution reductions.

But it wasn’t our disagreement about cap-and-trade’s efficiency that drove us to oppose the bill.

No, we opposed it because of the deals that were made and included in the bill to eliminate oil industry and Republican opposition.

Among those deals was one that directly prohibits local air districts from acting to control carbon dioxide (the most prominent greenhouse gas pollutant) from stationary sources, including oil production and refining operations. This was a provision that the oil industry insisted be included in the bill before it would remove opposition.

That provision threatens to tie air districts into knots or face legal battles with oil companies if the districts take any action to control health-threatening pollution and toxic air contaminants that coincidentally also cut carbon dioxide.

Our allies in the environmental justice movement, who represent people living around polluting facilities, feared this and other deal points in the bill would leave their constituents again without clean air.

There’s a twitter hashtag that says #wejustwanttobreathe. It’s a pretty straightforward demand that nearly every Californian living in an urban area can relate to at least some part of the year.

We need clean air for everyone. We also need action on climate change. One must not be sacrificed for the other. But as long as the oil industry plays a key role in developing climate bills, as they did with AB 398, clean air suffers.

In the Assembly, a few Democrats stood up to pressure from the governor and legislative leaders and voted their conscience. They voted against the cap-and-trade bill as long as it contained the restrictions on local air districts. One of those, Assemblywoman Monique Limon, D-Santa Barbara, represents part of Ventura County.

Limon is new to the Legislature and has taken on the job at a time that historians will probably recall as among the most politically turbulent in American history. At a time like this, it isn’t easy to buck a popular governor. Californians want to send a strong message to President Trump that California is still determined to act on climate change.

There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that the Sierra Club is committed to cutting climate pollution.

It just shouldn’t be done — and doesn’t have to be done — in a way that could put local residents at risk.

Ms. Limon wins our kudos for voting against the cap-and-trade bill and standing with the Californians who say #wejustwanttobreathe.

Jim Hines is chairman of the Los Padres Chapter of the Sierra Club.