Goldman School of Public Policy - University of California, Berkeley


Read the full report here: Advancing Environmental Justice: A New State Regulatory Framework to Abate Community-Level Air Pollution Hotspots and Improve Health Outcomes

Related links:

Report press release

Bill Text: AB-617 Nonvehicular air pollution: criteria air pollutants and toxic air contaminants

Comments on the passage of AB-617 by Chair of the Assembly Natural Resources Committee, Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens): "Fighting Climate Change and Air Pollution"

Executive Summary

California has been a leader in the United States, and indeed, the world, in reducing air pollution—both criteria and toxic pollutants that adversely impact health and greenhouse gases (GHG) that contribute to worldwide climate change. For example, the last two decades saw a 70 percent decline in diesel cancer risk and a 76 percent decline in the collective cancer risk from exposure to seven toxic air contaminants in California. GHGs are declining toward the goal of reducing emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. Despite this progress, California’s work is not done. There are numerous communities across the state where population exposures to harmful air pollution continue to threaten public health. California and federal air pollution laws focus on achieving ambient air quality standards, with compliance measured at monitoring sites chosen to reflect typical or average air quality in a region. But people don’t breathe average air.

New health research and data available over the last several years make it abundantly clear that as our regions progress toward regional air quality standard attainment, exposure to elevated levels of pollution on a local scale continues to have serious public health consequences. Hotspots with excessive emissions overwhelmingly occur in low income and minority communities, which tend to be located closer to multiple pollution sources. Some air districts have made progress in beginning to understand and address these localized emissions impacts through community engagement, supplemental monitoring, and initial abatement efforts, laying the groundwork for this report’s recommendation to create a new, more robust, community-focused system of air quality reduction and public health protection statewide.

As California continues to demonstrate much-needed international leadership in reducing GHG emissions, it is critically important that the state show an equal commitment to providing healthful air for all of its communities and stemming the debilitating impacts of air pollution on disadvantaged communities. The effect on these communities is not only a human health burden — high rates of asthma and other lung diseases, cancer, heart disease, and premature death — but also an economic one in terms of medical care costs and lost wages, which erode income needed for housing and food.

The Goldman School’s Center for Environmental Public Policy (CEPP) at UC Berkeley brought together. Key California state and local government officials, staff from the Governor’s office and the California State Legislature, California Air Resources Board members, stakeholders from the environmental justice community, industry and non-profit sectors, and faculty experts from the University of California in an Environmental Justice and Climate Policy Solutions Dialogue. The dialogue was convened by UC President Janet Napolitano to identify strategies to achieve SB 32’s 40 percent GHG reduction goal by 2030 while ensuring that environmental justice is being served in low income and minority communities through reduction of criteria and toxic air emissions.

A participant-driven process, the dialogue gravitated to examining policies that optimize criteria and toxic air emissions reductions to protect the health of disadvantaged communities. Given the virtually simultaneous timing of the California Legislature’s consideration of the Governor’s request to reauthorize the GHG emissions trading system, a number of dialogue participants strongly preferred leaving that discussion to debate in the legislative arena. Consequently, dialogue presentations and discussions focused on air quality and:

•The opportunity presented by emerging low-cost sensor technologies that help measure local air pollution levels in communities, identify the sources, and provide a catalyst and a platform for community engagement in developing an action plan to eliminate elevated emissions     exposures and their adverse health impacts;
•Approaches to abating elevated air pollution exposures in disadvantaged communities through a collaborative effort aimed at all air pollution sources, combining community engagement, regulation, and incentive financing;
•Strategies to reduce emissions from heavy duty vehicles through enhanced regulation of facilities like warehouses and marine terminals and through model state-of-the-art design rules for such facilities; and
•Strategies to encourage air districts to use the full extent of existing and new authority and financing incentives to abate air pollution hotspots.

In the course of the dialogue, it became clear that new, low cost stationary and mobile sensor technology promises to revolutionize air quality protection and deepen our understanding of the excessive health risks in disadvantaged communities. Currently, PM2.5 sensors are producing the most reliable data, but technology to measure other air pollutants is advancing rapidly. PM2.5, one of the most deleterious air pollutants, causes lung and heart disease and early death. The readiness of relatively low cost PM2.5 sensors serves as a starting point for the integrated regulatory framework proposed in this report. Using community-based sensors to help identify pollution hotspots as well as the stationary and mobile sources causing harmful exposures, air districts can work with communities and local government to target the sources with the appropriate mix of regulatory measures, incentive financing, traffic management, and/or land use strategies to reduce emissions and improve public health. The demand for regulatory action to reduce emissions will only intensify as community sensor use increases and the sources of harmful emissions are identified.

Actions to reduce emissions and health risk exposure may range from something as simple as limiting school bus idling and moving student pick-up and discharge stops away from school playgrounds to more expensive options including retrofitting pollution controls on buses or replacing them with electric and hybrid models. In communities with marine terminals or warehouses, regulatory actions would include implementing efficient cargo and vehicle management at the warehouse or marine terminal to expedite truck passage through the facility and reduce diesel emissions and energy use. In other communities, regulatory steps would include requiring technological improvements at a refinery or cement plant. Using this flexible approach, air districts working with communities would choose the most appropriate options to reduce emissions and exposures consistent with their particular situations.

This report’s recommendations for dealing effectively with the criteria and toxic air contaminant challenges in environmental justice communities are based on the CEPP team’s research as well as information gathered from the dialogue sessions, working group meetings, and one-on-one and small group discussions with various stakeholders and experts. Though it is informed by those extensive discussions, this report reflects solely the recommendations of the authors.

Recommendation: New State Regulatory Framework to Abate Community-Level Air Pollution Hotspots

The CEPP team proposes a bold new system for localized air quality and health improvement designed to rapidly reduce air pollution by identifying and focusing resources on local air pollution hotspot areas. Enactment of AB 617 (C. Garcia), Nonvehicular air pollution: criteria air pollutants and toxic air contaminants, in July 2017 is an important first step in launching such a system. It expands opportunity to build a comprehensive program that includes the following elements:

•CARB should define criteria for the selection of geographic areas with high particulate matter (PM2.5) exposures based on exceedance of the National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for PM2.5 or high rates of emergency room admissions for asthma.
•CARB should designate expeditiously the first 12 communities as hotspots for PM 2.5.
•Air Districts would be required to collaborate with community members and other stakeholders to develop required Community Air Quality Action Plans (CAQAPs) for designated hotspots.
•The first hotspot emissions reductions would occur within 36 months
•Additional PM2.5 hotspot areas would be designated every two years and hotspot designation for other air pollutants by CARB would also occur.

•Identification and inventory of contributing sources and categories of sources affecting the designated hotspot;
•Best Available Control Technology (BACT) for new, and Best Available Retrofit Control Technology (BARCT) or equivalent emission reduction rules and regulations for existing, stationary sources larger than 50 tons/year affecting the hotspot;
•Regular review and strengthening of permits, rules, and regulations for all sources affecting the hotspot;
•Efficiency-based regulation of marine terminals and warehouses and other indirect sources to speed up truck passage, cut idling time, and reduce emissions;
•Model rules for terminals/warehouses to improve vehicle management and cargo handling, reduce energy use, and achieve zero- or near-zero-emitting equipment by 2030-35; and
•Emission reduction milestones to be achieved every three years.

A successful program requires:
•Funding for sensor deployment, CAQAP design, and meaningful community engagement in developing the CAQAP; and
•Transparency and continuous engagement with the community to build trust in the process and the results.

•New funding for CAQAP implementation;
•Targeting of existing and new emissions abatement incentive funding to hotspots and in particular to heavy duty vehicles contributing to elevated exposures in the designated hotspots;
•A requirement that CARB develop and implement the CAQAP if the air district is unable to do so;
•Consequences applied by CARB for failure by the air district or regulated sources to meet implementation timelines or emission reduction milestones; and
•Annual reports to the legislature by CARB and air districts of hotspot emissions reduction progress and recommendations for program improvement.

This report envisions a new frontier in air quality management not only for California but also for communities all across the U.S. and the world. The new frontier is defined by much more accurate and localized data from new sensor technology, and an increased ability to target the specific sources responsible for elevated exposures, taking into account the time of day, meteorological conditions and the specific populations most adversely impacted by the air pollution. This approach allows us to move beyond traditional reliance on a broad regional air pollution approach to a community level framework that engages citizens and stakeholders to target the specific pollution sources that need to be abated and/or eliminated to protect vulnerable populations, children with asthma, the elderly, and people with lung and heart conditions.