Study: Calif. Climate Law, AB32, Will Improve Public Health

The merits and/or pitfalls of deploying and/or repealing California’s landmark climate law, AB32, have been argued, it seems, eight ways to Sunday. But while most of the recent arguments and research focus on how the law will impact our economy and employment numbers, the public health and environmental justice implications have been largely overlooked.

But new research performed by researchers and professors from three California colleges, and paid for by William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, considers the impacts that reducing the levels of CO2, nitrogen oxide and dangerous levels of particulate matter would have on the health of those who live closest to the biggest producers of these pollutants and greenhouse gases.

I spoke with Justin Scoggins, a data analyst at the Program for Environmental and Regional Equity at the University of Southern California, and one of the lead researchers in the study, about the top findings in the report, which is called Minding the Climate Gap: What’s at Stake if California’s Climate Law isn’t Done Right and Right Away.

As is evident from the report’s subtitle, the purpose of the study is to present the benefits of implementing the law and doing so quickly. But Scoggins says the study had been planned before the most recent (and most fierce) protests against its implementation were levied. However, he adds, “After finding out about the efforts to delay AB32, we looked more closely at the seven major oil refining companies that operate in California.” And when in terms of  negative impacts the oil refineries have on public health, “Tesoro is number one,” he says.

Tesoro and Valero, another oil company with California refineries, have both lent financial support to the effort to delay AB32’s implementation.

According to Scoggins, the most significant finding of the study, which you can download here, is the tight correlation between the facilities that produce the worst emissions and those that have the biggest impact on pollution disparity in terms of public health. In other words, the areas where the biggest polluters and emitters of greenhouse gases are operating are also where the impact on public health is greatest—and also where the environmental injustice is greatest.

The study found that:

…in California, people of color are, on average, exposed to over seventy percent more of the dangerous pollution coming from major greenhouse gas polluters as whites, and that the disparity is particularly sharp for African Americans.

And from a policy perspective, this means that action needs to be taken at these pollution sources. A cap and trade scheme may help lower overall emissions, but companies that simply buy credits to continue their current operations, without making significant changes to their emissions levels, won’t be doing anything to improve the health of the folks who live nearby.

On the bright side, this means that those who work to improve public health, through better air quality, are also working to improve environmental justice, notes Scoggins.

Freelance writer Mary Catherine O'Connor finds that a growing number of companies are proving the ways that they can make good financially, socially and environmentally (as the triple bottom line theory suggests).With that in mind, she contributes to Triple Pundit, as well as to Earth2Tech and other pubs focused on sustainability. She also writes The Good Route, an Outside Magazine blog that addresses the intersection of sustainability and the active/outdoor life.To find out more, or to reach her, go to