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Report outlines steps to implement pollution reduction program

A study from the Goldman School offers recommendations to improve public health and save lives in low-income and minority neighborhoods located near pollution sources.

Port of Oakland at sunset
The Port of Oakland is one of many sites of environmental concern for neighbors living in its vicinity. (Photo by Russell Mondy, courtesy of Creative Commons.)

Berkeley – A report from the Center for Environmental Public Policy provides new policy recommendations to help implement California’s recently legislated program to eliminate hotspots of severe air pollution harming the health of people in disadvantaged communities.

Assembly Bill 617, passed by the California Legislature and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in July, establishes that meeting regional air quality standards is not enough, and that people in communities near pollution sources must be protected from elevated exposures to harmful emissions.

Richmond CA refinery

A new Goldman School report contains recommendations to improve public health in low-income and minority neighborhoods located near pollution sources like marine terminals, trucking warehouses, chemical plants and refineries. (Photo by Scott Hess, courtesy of Creative Commons.)

“This year’s landmark climate change policies were centered around air quality; bringing about greater transparency and true climate equity in areas that historically have been disproportionately impacted by pollution,” said Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella), chair of the Joint Legislative Committee on Climate Change Policies. 

“AB 617 opens a new frontier in how we control air pollution and builds upon advancements in low-cost pollution sensing technologies to help fill a major public health protection gap in California and potentially other environmentally vulnerable communities across the globe,” Garcia said.

The study released today by CEPP, based at the University of California, Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy, provides specific recommendations to improve public health and literally save lives in low-income and minority neighborhoods located near pollution sources like marine terminals, trucking warehouses, chemical plants, and refineries found in California, the Gulf Coast and other areas across the nation, according to Ned Helme, CEPP’s executive director.

“New, low-cost air pollution sensor technology makes it possible to target air emissions abatement to the local level. This could be a model for the nation,” he added.

The report, “Advancing Environmental Justice: A New State Regulatory Framework to Abate Community-Level Air Pollution Hotspots and Improve Health Outcomes,” is based on research and policy discussions with more than 40 key California government officials, environmental justice advocates and industry representatives.

It recommends actions by California to designate local hotspot areas, deploy the new sensor technology, design emission controls and engage communities in reducing excessive exposures to air pollution.

“We can now identify and reduce dangerous pollution in areas as small as a city block where the worst pollution exposures are occurring and where residents are experiencing disproportionately higher rates of emergency room admissions for asthma,” said Helme.

The CEPP study emphasizes tapping direct community involvement to make the legislation’s hotspot abatement program work.

With support from the state, communities can strategically deploy sensors on the front porches of hundreds of residences to create a dense network across affected neighborhoods that can arm citizens with accurate data and knowledge of their local situation. Traditional clean air laws, while effective in lowering average pollution exposure, often overlook localized pollution hotspots.

Before it adjourns next week, the California Legislature will need to appropriate funding for the network of new sensors, community-based pollution reduction strategies, and CEPP-recommended financial incentives to replace dirty diesel truck engines with electric motors.

“This financing is the critical ingredient to successfully implement this path-breaking clean air legislation,” said Helme.

Jack Broadbent, executive secretary of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, participated in the discussions for the report. He said its recommendations “will transform how we as regulators can ensure health protection for our most vulnerable citizens. We are eager to move forward with our communities to make this vision a reality.”

Luis Olmedo of Brawley, Calif., director of Comite Civico Del Valle, a leading local environmental justice group in the Imperial Valley, participated in the CEPP discussions. He said it is essential that community organizations are empowered to join in monitoring local air pollution as well as in designing strategies for pollution abatement.

“We have been battling the air pollution that shortens lives in disadvantaged communities for a long time,” added Brian Beveridge, co-director of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, and a CEPP project participant.

In his neighborhood, Beveridge said, the CEPP recommendations will provide a valuable new path for reducing pollution from marine terminals and warehouse operations.

Research for the report included extensive discussions, working groups and feedback about how to increase health protection for vulnerable populations. Participants included environmental justice groups, industry and environmental representatives, state and local agencies, labor and UC faculty experts.