Addressing Overburdened, Underserved Communities' Priorities Is Vital to Success of California Climate Plan

Catalina Gonzalez

June 22, 2022

On June 23, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) will hold its first public hearing on its draft plan (the Draft 2022 Scoping Plan) for achieving the state's climate goals and for getting to carbon neutrality no later than 2045. Including actions that prioritize California's overburdened and underserved communities will be vital to the success of the proposed plan.

Many across the state are expressing concern that the proposed course of action in the draft plan will be too slow, achieving carbon neutrality by 2045 instead of by 2035, the earlier target Gov. Gavin Newsom directed the agency to consider. Although the proposed approach would reduce the demand for and use of fossil fuels significantly, it would allow existing oil and gas industry activities that disproportionately harm low-income communities of color to continue indefinitely.

Environmental justice advocates are concerned that the plan relies too heavily on unproven technologies like biofuels, direct air capture of carbon dioxide, and carbon capture storage and sequestration, all of which could allow fuel combustion to continue, maintaining and exacerbating harms to overburdened communities.

The state's Environmental Justice Advisory Committee (EJAC) is developing its final round of recommendations to address these concerns, recommendations that will be critical for making sure the priorities of overburdened and underserved communities are included in the state's climate strategy, which will be finalized later this year. EJAC includes representatives from California environmental justice organizations whose members and constituents experience the worst air quality and disproportionate impacts from fossil fuel-related pollution.

Pressing for Equity

Over its 16-year history, the advisory committee has challenged CARB to support a more inclusive approach to statewide climate planning that is informed by the expertise and lived experiences of low-income communities and communities of color. EJAC members have pushed for environmental, economic, and public health equity considerations, and for prioritizing co-pollutant reductions in the state's climate strategy.

However, these priorities have often been at odds with CARB's approach and climate objectives, which continue to be driven by technical experts and prioritize flexible and cost-effective compliance options.

Despite recent CARB initiatives to renew its commitment to equity and environmental justice, including establishing a new Office of Equity and Environmental Justice and appointing a deputy executive director to lead the office, the development of the 2022 Scoping Plan update has been fraught with tensions about process and disagreements about priorities.

Pointed Concerns

Throughout the public portion of the 2022 Scoping Plan update process, members of EJAC raised pointed concerns about barriers the committee continues to face in authentically representing and engaging the state's most impacted and under-resourced communities in shaping climate mitigation strategies and in substantively influencing the Scoping Plan.

Because not all EJAC members are technical experts, it has been difficult for them to fully assess the agency's complex analysis and modeling methodology, which has made relaying this content and gathering information from impacted communities nearly impossible. Moreover, in letters addressed to CARB board members and Newsom, EJAC members strongly expressed their view that CARB's timeline for the Scoping Plan process failed to account for the disproportionate impact of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic on Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities, which severely limited opportunities for outreach and engagement. CARB ultimately rejected an extended timeline proposal, citing statutory deadlines.

Despite these barriers, EJAC delivered a robust set of preliminary recommendations to CARB that identify proposed immediate actions, areas where further coordination and analysis is needed, and suggestions for targeted investments in low-income households and disadvantaged communities. The recommendations call for direct emission reductions that prioritize pollution benefits in overburdened communities, far-reaching investments in clean energy resources in low-resource communities, and for a just transition for fossil-fuel workers impacted by the state's shift to carbon neutrality. EJAC attached a major caveat to these recommendations: Because of the impediments to obtaining community input, they noted their recommendations should not be considered representative of a comprehensive community engagement process.

In response to requests to provide access to the Draft Scoping Plan in additional languages, in May, CARB staff began working on translating the plan into Spanish and Chinese. However, the timing of these versions, which are still under development and will not be available to the public until after the close of the public comment period, has further limited the participation of marginalized communities and prevented non-English speakers from being able to weigh in the proposed plan.

Once the Scoping Plan is finalized later this year, EJAC will have a new role in advising the agency on broader regulatory actions, investment decisions, and program implementation. At a joint meeting between the CARB board and EJAC in March, Chair Lyn Randolph announced that a permanent advisory body will be part of the implementation of the 2022 Scoping Plan, a first for the agency.

While CARB relies on EJAC as the primary mechanism to represent environmental justice communities in the state's climate planning process, the committee has raised serious and pointed concerns that statewide action planning does not adequately include and address the concerns of overburdened and underserved communities. To succeed in its ultimate goal — a clean and equitable path to net-zero climate emissions — the air resources board must include and take action on the priorities identified by the environmental justice committee.

Stay tuned to this space for more on the California Scoping Plan and the state's efforts on climate pollution and climate justice. You can also subscribe to our email list and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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