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Clean Air Rule Letter to Ecology by Communities of Climate Justice

Governor listening to communities of color

Logo - clean air

October 22, 2015

Ms. Sarah Rees
Special Assistant – Climate Policy
PO Box 47600
Olympia, WA 98504

Dear Sarah Rees and Stu Clark,

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Clean Air Rule. As a coalition of social and economic justice organizations dedicated to finding the most equitable solutions to climate change, we are encouraged by the opportunities presented by the rulemaking process currently underway. As advocates, we hold ourselves accountable to the communities in Washington State who are most affected by both air pollution, including excess greenhouse gas emissions and their criteria pollutants, and global climate change. Both race and income are risk factors for respiratory disease like asthma and many of the entities targeted by the Clean Air Rule are located in or near low-income communities of color.[1] Traffic emissions pose a particularly potent threat to public health in communities near major roadways where criteria pollutants tend to concentrate, even as they contribute to the state’s largest source of carbon pollution.

We therefore believe that requiring reductions in greenhouse gases from our state’s largest polluters is a crucial step toward both minimizing our state’s contribution to global climate change and improving air quality locally. In order to confer benefits locally and globally, however, the Clean Air Rule must be carefully crafted through a strong racial and economic equity analysis and ensure that compliance flexibility does not sacrifice or undermine the efficacy of the cap.

We recognize the limitations inherent in both the agency’s administrative authority and the limitations of the State Clean Air Act, as well as the severe time constraints motivated by the urgency to act on an increasingly grave global problem. Under such pressure and constraints, we nonetheless encourage the Department to prioritize those communities for whom this rule is most important. In that regard, we have several recommendations.

Using and building on existing mapping tools such as Puget Sound Clean Air Agency’s Community Air Tool (CAT), EPA’s EJSCREEN[2], and Washington Department of Health’s Washington Tracking Network[3], we encourage the Department to identify Washington’s most highly impacted communities, where exposure to air pollution and poverty, linguistic isolation, and high concentrations of communities of color overlap. In highly impacted areas where entities capped by the Clean Air Rule exist, the Department must prioritize culturally appropriate, convenient, and accessible public engagement, per Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. Consulting environmental justice staff from relevant state agencies, including the Department of Ecology, Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, and the Department of Transportation, will equip the Department with the necessary expertise to conduct a robust engagement process. At the end of each compliance period, the Department should analyze public health and ambient air quality indicators in these highly impacted communities. If the Department finds that air quality has not improved, they should explore additional measures, including Supplemental Environmental Projects, to further bring environmental benefits to those communities.

To the extent possible, the Department must conduct a thorough economic analysis of the rule’s impacts to the state economy on both macro and micro levels. If the rule is found to have a regressive effect, the Department should work with the State Legislature and other agencies to find ways to provide financial assistance to low-income families whose inelastic costs of living are increased as a result of this rule.

The Department should create an advisory committee comprised of members of highly impacted communities and public health experts to periodically monitor the effectiveness of the Clean Air Rule and make recommendations for changes to the rule to the Department, the Governor’s Office, and the State Legislature as appropriate.

In our commitment to economic justice and desire to implement climate policies that prevent industry leakage, we understand that compliance flexibility will ensure capped entities contribute to the solution while avoiding job loss and carbon leakage. The Department is considering allowing entities to submit alternative projects or “credits” in lieu of reducing emissions for maximum compliance flexibility. We strongly oppose this provision and encourage the Department to seek other compliance flexibility mechanisms.

We oppose the credit system for the following reasons:

  • The proposed credits are akin to offsets in other emissions regulation programs. These hypothetical reduction projects often result in human rights violations and other negative environmental externalities while failing to improve air quality around the entity that purchases them.
  • Emission reductions through these credits will be difficult or impossible to quantify and verify. This places an undue administrative burden on the Department and risks the integrity of the cap.
  • The Department has proposed accepting credit projects in capped sectors but this would allow some reductions to be counted twice.
  • While some of the examples of projects eligible for credits could benefit the communities we work with, we believe the Clean Air Rule is the wrong policy to confer those benefits if the provision of credits conflicts with the intent of the state Clean Air Act to, “secure and maintain levels of air quality that protect human health and safety, including the most sensitive members of the population…”[4]

In an effort to maximize improvements to air quality in as many of Washington’s communities as possible, we encourage the Department to lower the emissions threshold for coverage by the program. The threshold ought to ensure the broadest coverage possible and need not necessarily be uniform across sectors. The transportation sector in particular warrants a tailored approach because of the variety of pollutants it emits and the potential for leakage if fuels refined out of state are not capped. We recommend reducing the threshold for transportation emissions and including fuel distributors on the list of capped entities, so as to ensure that emissions produced by the combustion of all transportation fuels within Washington are under the cap. Moreover, we strongly encourage the Department to disincentivize behaviors that will reduce carbon intensity but increase particulates, such as switching from gasoline to diesel. Doing so would complement the Department’s existing efforts to reduce diesel exhaust, which the Department has designated as the most harmful pollutant to public health. At minimum, this rule must not lead to an increase in criteria pollutants, which are largely responsible for the negative health outcomes in low-income communities of color near major roadways.

The Department has acknowledged that it does not have the authority to administer a carbon market. However, the Clean Air Rule will create a tradable commodity and the Department has signaled a willingness to allow capped entities to trade permits. We do not believe the Department has the authority to allow emissions trading and strongly encourage the Department to design the rule in a way that prohibits or at least discourages trading. Requiring entities to surrender the same compliance instruments they were initially given is a much simpler, more transparent way to reduce pollution and will not raise legal questions as to the extent of Ecology’s authority.

Meeting science-based emission reduction goals will be difficult or impossible to achieve through a carbon cap alone. The Rule must therefore be designed as a foundation for a more comprehensive approach and in harmony with existing efforts, including the Clean Power Plan.

We look forward to continuing to work with you on the design and implementation of this rule to ensure it achieves emissions reductions and air quality improvement goals in the most equitable way possible.



[1] “Health of Washington State 2012: Asthma Chapter,” Washington Department of Health. June 29, 2012. http://www.doh.wa.gov/portals/1/documents/5500/cd-ast2012.pdf.

[2] EPA’s screening tool combines demographic and environmental indicators and can be accessed at http://ejscreen.epa.gov/mapper/.

[3] Washington Department of Health recently released their mapping tool, the Washington Tracking Network, which compiles data about air quality and public health. It can be accessed at https://fortress.wa.gov/doh/wtn/WTNPortal/.

[4] “Declaration of public policies and purpose.” Washington State Clean Air Act. RCW 70.94.011. http://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=70.94.011.