Environmental Justice Groups Win California Court Fight

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Air Resources Board ordered to revisit alternatives to unjust cap and trade system

On March 17, 2011 a San Francisco Superior Court judge ruled that the California Air Resources Board violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) when it failed to properly consider alternatives to a “cap and trade” program in its plan to implement AB 32, the California Climate Solutions Act. Cap and trade is pollution trading that allows the worst polluters to continue or increase their pollution by buying “reductions.” These polluters are disproportionately located in low income communities of color. Instead of reducing pollution and creating jobs in California, dirty facilities, like oil refineries, get to buy credits from often unverifiable projects in other states and countries.

“Allowing the most entrenched polluters to increase pollution violates our environmental rights and is not the way to stop poisoning our air and slow catastrophic climate change,” said Bill Gallegos, CBE’s Executive Director. “ARB was dogmatic in its focus on cap-and-trade even though it is not effective in reducing greenhouse gases, increases pollution in heavily polluted low-income communities and communities of color, and misses the opportunity to create jobs in California. Now the ARB has a chance to do it right and consider real alternatives to pollution trading. We continue to be willing to work with the ARB to make the whole plan work for everybody.”

Environmental justice and air quality organizations have been fighting for years to get ARB to protect low-income communities of color in its efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In 2009, these groups filed suit to enforce their rights under AB32 and CEQA.

Judge Ernest Goldsmith’s ruling rejected ARB’s rationale for choosing a pollution trading scheme, stating that the law requires more than “a discourse on cap and trade justification.”

The decision requires ARB to fully analyze alternatives to the cap and trade program, and stops all implementation of the program until ARB complies with the law.

“ARB refused to do its job so we were left with no other choice but to sue to protect public health,” said Caroline Farrell, Executive Director for the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment. “The court’s decision ensures that ARB fully understand how its decisions impact the most vulnerable of Californians and avoid unintended negative consequences as we move forward with this groundbreaking and transformative measure.”

In addition, the court ruled that ARB violated a key CEQA protection when it prematurely moved forward with its plan before completing environmental review, stating that ARB “interpreted its regulation in a way that undermines CEQA’s goal of informed decision-making.”

“ARB jumped the gun and failed to respond to the thousands of public comments it received before it approved and implemented its plan,” said Tom Frantz, President of the Association of Irritated Residents. “This ruling will compel ARB to fully consider those of us most affected by its decisions, and not just move forward in its haste to make major polluters happy.”

Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) represented itself and its members.

The Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment (CRPE) represented Association of Irritated Residents, Coalition for a Safe Environment, Society for Positive Action, West County Toxics Coalition, Angela Johnson-Meszaros, Dr. Henry Clark, Jesse Marquez, Shabaka Heru, and Tom Frantz.

Angela Johnson-Meszaros represented Martha Dina Arguello, Caroline Farrell, and California Communities Against Toxics.

1 Comment

  • This is amazing – a result for justice for the people and the planet – they don’t come that often. Big well done to those involved.