The Air Resources Board has a Unique Opportunity to Ensure Polluter Fees Benefit the Communities Most in Need

By Chelsea Tu, Staff Attorney

While the California Legislature deliberates on how to spend Cap-and-Trade revenues, the state’s Air Resources Board (ARB) is quietly updating its guidelines that ensure those revenues are spent to benefit underserved communities and residents.

The update of these guidelines offers a critical opportunity to build on the past successes of our advocacy in four crucial respects:

  • In 2016, we helped adopt AB 1550 (Gomez), requiring that at least 10 percent of climate funds benefit low-income communities and households. The new ARB guidelines should faithfully implement this requirement by ensuring that this share of funds provide exclusive and direct benefits to low-income people.
  • In the prior guidelines update, we won language that requires investments to “meaningfully address an important community need.” Residents of underserved and overburdened communities are the experts on the needs of their communities, and on the best solutions. The new guidelines should give this language teeth by requiring agencies to evaluate project proposals in part by the level of community engagement projects incorporated. A proposal would rank “high” if it adopted a Participatory Budgeting or another approach that showcased community-led proposal development process.
  • The current draft updated guidelines encourage agencies to award more points to project proposals that bring multiple benefits. However, ARB should require that each project bring multiple benefits to low-income families and neighborhoods. ARB should also direct agencies to ask project applicants to qualitatively or quantitatively document their strategies toward maximizing environmental, public health, AND economic benefits.
  • In the prior guidelines update, we won language that requires investments to “avoid substantial burdens, such as physical or economic displacement of low income disadvantaged community residents and businesses or increased exposure to toxics or other health risks.” The new guidelines should implement this important requirement by mandating that applicants get specific in describing how they will be sure low-income residents in any community will not be displaced or otherwise harmed.

Ultimately, climate investments must help alleviate the disproportionate pollution and poverty that low-income communities and communities of color face. Every environmental justice issue is a civil rights problem that demands the full attention of the state. You can let ARB know that by attending the upcoming community meetings on August 23, 28, and 31, or by submitting comments in writing.

*Chelsea Tu is a former staff attorney at Public Advocates

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