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Pricing Justice: Carbon Pricing and Environmental Justice Prof. Gerald Torres & Robert García

In order to hit a target two things must be true: first, you must have a target; and second, you must aim at it. Given the current state of environmental policy making, environmental equity has got to be part of the target.

Our brief essay is a response to others analyzing the elements necessary to produce an equitable climate policy. The reason for this response stems from the absence by others of a direct concern for environmental justice. The community that has shown the most consistent support for climate change, Latinos, is absent from the analyses and debate. Our response will proceed in the following way. First, we will describe the general problems associated with policy creation where it is necessary to reconcile fundamentally competing values. Second, we turn to specific issues related to cap and trade programs, especially the “hot-spot” analysis. Third, we explore the centrality of the environmental justice movement to the formulation of all environmental policy. Finally, we look at two concrete examples where failure to take environmental justice into account has resulted in policy failure: environmental bond funds under California’s Proposition 84, and distribution of cap and trade dividends under AB 32.

In comparing EJ communities to non-EJ communities the baseline for comparison is absolutely critical. It cannot be the claim that all we need to know is that there is no additional harm to these communities. The ethical justification for using dividends from trades has got to reflect the differing environmental burdens the communities bear by taking differing baselines into account.

What the environmental justice movement has demonstrated is that racially identifiable communities are at a greater risk of environmental harms, disproportionately lack environmental benefits, pay a larger cost, and carry a heavier environmental burden than other communities regardless of class. Once these costs are considered the distribution of benefits must necessarily be structured to pay down that debt.

What is the target and is our aim true? Analyses of Prop 84 reveal that despite a generally stated goal to use the park bond funds to improve environmental quality equitably, it was only when the goals were clearly and concretely stated under AB 31 that the equity benefits were achieved. As important as it is to clearly state the goals, parallel requirements are as important: establishing clear criteria to measure progress, and assembling the data necessary to assess progress and make mid-course corrections. Only through the creation of constituencies of accountability can government actors or the private actors they are regulating be obliged to conform to standards adopted by the people.

Understanding the conditions upon which environmental programs are built is the just the first step in achieving this goal. Pretending that it doesn’t matter is no longer acceptable.

Click here for the essay Impact of Carbon Pricing Schemes on Environmental Justice Communities by Gerald Torres, the Jane M.G. Foster Professor of Law at Cornell Law School, and City Project Director-Counsel Robert García.

Sun blotted out from the sky by 20,000 acre fire Santa Clarita climate change

Southern California sun over the Pacific Ocean blotted out from the sky by forest fire 20 miles away