Low-Income Groups Fight California Global Warming Law

Published May 1, 2008

Low-income community groups in five California cities have launched a statewide campaign against any global warming regulation that allows industries to trade carbon emissions, saying it would amount to “gambling on public health.”

A 21-point declaration by the California Environmental Justice Movement (CEJM) directly challenges the stated position of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), who advocates a cap-and-trade program.

Under the Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32) signed into law in 2006, California has committed to cut its greenhouse gases 25 percent by 2020, about 135 million metric tons per year.

To help spur the emissions reduction, regulators are designing a cap-and-trade program in which carbon emissions are capped and emitters can trade carbon allowances among themselves. Regulators are also designing direct command-and-control emission standards and carbon taxes.

Uncertain Results

According to the late-February declaration by the CEJM, cap-and-trade systems do not adequately ensure emissions will fall enough to forestall global warming.

“[T]he political power of the major global polluters has resulted in carbon trading schemes that include inadequate reporting systems, are impossible for the public and regulatory agencies to monitor, allow gaming of the system by market participants, and lack meaningful penalties for failure to comply,” the declaration reads.

By demanding more extreme measures, however, the declaration threatens to drive a wedge between various environmental activist groups in the state.

Political Wedges

Notably absent from participation in the declaration are prominent activist groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council and Sierra Club. For the most part, national environmental activist groups are backing cap-and-trade plans, even though many of them would prefer a carbon tax or more direct command-and-control regulation.

Roy Innis, a long-time civil rights activist and chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality, opposes cap-and-trade schemes for other reasons. Innis believes any effort to restrict access to affordable energy will disproportionately harm poor and minority citizens.

“Energy is the master resource of modern society,” Innis said. “With abundant, reliable, affordable energy, much is possible. Without it, hope, opportunity, and progress are hobbled.”

Any restrictions on greenhouse gases will result in higher energy and commodity prices across the board, Innis said, which will disproportionately be borne by minorities, regardless of whether those restrictions come about by carbon taxes, cap-and-trade schemes, or other regulatory approaches.

Innis says such restrictions will inevitably raise energy prices, which in turn “will cause countless families in our country in winters ahead to choose between food on the table and fuel.”

Tom Tanton ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the Pacific Research Institute.