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Front and Centered Recommendations on Clean Air Rule at Dept. of Ecology

Front and Centered with Director of Ecology

On March 1st, a delegation of leaders from Front and Centered met with staff from the Department of Ecology, including Director Maia Bellon (pictured at center), Special Assistant to the Director for Climate Policy Sarah Reese, and Environmental Justice Coordinator Millie Piazza, as well as Governor Inslee’s Advisor on Carbon Markets Chris Davis.  We came to make recommendations on the Clean Air Rule.  While the State has held a number of meetings on the Rule,  identifying communities of color and the environmental justice community as key stakeholders is a new and promising step forward, and we look forward to continuing to work with the Governor’s Office, Ecology Director and staff in advancing climate justice in Washington State.

The Clean Air Rule originated from directive by Governor Inslee to the Department of Ecology to use their authority to cap carbon emissions.  In January 2016, Ecology proposed a Draft Rule that would set Washington’s first-ever limits on carbon pollution requiring the State’s largest greenhouse gas emitters to reduce their pollution from a set baseline at the rate of 5% every three years.  Polluters were given the options of  reporting reductions achieved onsite or acquiring and submitting emissions reductions ‘instruments’ demonstrating equivalent pollution reductions would occur elsewhere.

On February 26th, the Department of Ecology temporarily withdrew the rule in order to produce a second draft in the spring attentive to the stakeholder feedback they received; so the Front and Centered meeting this week was timely.

Front and Centered organizations have been working collectively for nearly two years to define and advocate for climate justice, culminating in a summit with more than 100 leaders of color in the Fall of 2015.  We support equitable and effective action to reduce carbon pollution and slow climate change. It is our collective belief that climate action must center communities highly impacted by cumulative economic, social and environmental burdens.

Over the past four months coalition members have been studying, meeting, and exploring policy options on the Clean Air Rule. The Draft Clean Air Rule, while assertive and timely, did not adequately account for communities on the frontlines of climate change.  Without equity, net environmental and economic benefits for frontline communities, or clear opportunity for participatory oversight, the rule fell short of the Principles for Climate Justice.  Therefore, we have come together on recommendations to improve the Rule.  However, these recommendations reflect only harm mitigation strategies given the Department’s authority and the Rule’s scope. Front and Centered will continue to engage collectively and propose unified recommendations to fully realize climate justice in our State though all effective pathways.  Our recommendations presented on March 1st, outlined below, were an important step in that direction:

Require Pollution Reductions That Reach Washington’s Highly Impacted Communities

Issue:  The ability of covered greenhouse gas emitters to meet all required reductions requirements through acquiring emissions reductions ‘instruments’ offsite and from out-of-state deters investments in Washington and deprives communities of the co-benefits associated with greenhouse gas emissions reductions. The Draft Clean Air Rule did not ensure pollution reduction in Washington communities cumulatively impacted by air pollution and socio-economic burdens or demonstrate a pathway for Washington to meet its statutory targets to reduce aggregate emissions.

Recommendation:  The Clean Air Rule should ensure pollution reduction overall and for highly impacted communities by requiring that:

  • Covered polluters located in highly impacted communities make all reductions onsite or in other highly impacted communities in Washington: To address geographically bounded sources of pollution contributing to cumulative environmental injustice, require that existing and new covered entities located in highly impacted communities identified by a cumulative impacts analysis demonstrate onsite pollution reduction (for stationary sources) or surrender instruments demonstrating 1) all pollution reduction occurred within the boundaries of a highly impacted community in Washington State and 2) Emissions instruments surrendered demonstrate reduction projects with community labor agreements, including priority-hire.
  • All covered polluters meet an escalating share of their  requirement through pollution reduction in a highly impacted community: To address mobile sources of pollution outside highly impacted communities, but contributing to cumulative environmental injustice, require that 5% of compliance instruments surrendered by each entity originate from pollution reduction within the boundaries or benefiting communities identified by a cumulative impacts analysis in the first compliance period. Increase this requirement by 10% each compliance period.
  • Create a cap on out-of-state instruments and incentives for in-state pollution reductions that escalate over time:  To address the need for Washington State pollution reductions, put a ceiling on the share of out of state instruments that may be surrendered that lowers over time.  In addition, value out-of-state compliance instruments at 1/3 ton per one ton surrendered.  Or if determined more feasible – increase the rate of emissions reductions required — for example 10% every three years — and value in-state pollution reduction at the equivalent of two tons for every one-ton instrument.
  • Set an aggregate emissions limit for covered and potential new covered entities, prohibit covered entities from emitting more than their baseline, prevent trading emissions elsewhere: The Clean Air Rule should have a mechanism to assure new entrants are immediately accountable and there is an aggregate limit over new and existing covered emitters that declines over time.  The rule should also prevent emitters from backsliding – emitting more pollution then their baseline – to assure local co-benefits.  In addition, prohibit trade-able emissions allowances that allow continued pollution in communities elsewhere.

Identify and Monitor Highly Impacted Communities

Issue: The Rule does not define, identify or prevent and mitigate further harm to communities highly impacted by pollution, climate vulnerabilities and demographic and economic disparities.  Depending on how an entity chooses to meet the cap, its use of credits might result in increased emissions of harmful air co-pollutants or fail to improve existing conditions.

Recommendation: The Department of Ecology has an obligation to protect the health and safety of communities and address the potential for disproportionate impacts to communities resulting from the Clean Air Rule. The Clean Air Act declaration of purpose, provides Ecology the authority ‘to maintain levels of air quality that protect human health and safety, including the most sensitive members of the population.” The Washington Clean Air Act also provides strong support for requiring monitoring of highly impacted communities to ensure hot spots are not created or exacerbated and to guard against backsliding.

Ecology has the authority to combine air pollution types and sources and the ability to prevent emissions that are harmful in the aggregate, even when the individual emissions do not surpass emissions standards. The Clean Air Act authorizes air pollution standards to apply to a combination of types of pollution, as well as combined sources of emissions, including but not limited to ozone, greenhouse gas emissions and emissions from both industrial and mobile sources. By authorizing Ecology to adopt standards based on combinations of types and sources of pollution (and elsewhere providing that rules for stationary sources shall apply to sources that individually or collectively contribute to the statewide emissions), the Clean Air Act envisions regulation of air pollution in the aggregate.

In order for Ecology to fulfill its duty to protect the health and safety of sensitive members of the population, Ecology must:

  • Define ‘sensitive members of the population’ as highly impacted communities using cumulative impacts analysis.  This analysis should include consideration of 1) aggregate pollution hazards or burdens and 2) health, social and economic and climate vulnerability.  Specifically, the definition of sensitive communities should include, but not be limited to: a) areas disproportionately affected by environmental pollution and other hazards that can lead to negative public health effects, exposure, or environmental degradation and areas with concentrations of people that are of low income, high unemployment, low levels of home ownership, high rent burden, sensitive populations, or low levels of educational attainment.
  • Map the cumulative impacts analysis to locate the communities with high percentages of sensitive members of the population, that will carry the heaviest burden of air pollution/climate change. Mapping should occur at the census track level and Ecology should work closely with community stakeholders, as outlined in the following section, to continuously monitor and report on the impacts of the Rule on at minimum an annual basis and make necessary adjustments to prevent negative impacts from aggregate sources of pollution.  The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency Highly Impacted Communities Report (2014) provides one example to build upon.
  • Monitor these highly impacted communities on a regular basis to ensure that the Rule does not create or exacerbate pollution hot spots and result in back-sliding on air and water quality. Make the analysis process transparent and results easily accessible to all communities, including those with limited English proficiency.

Establish and Environmental Justice Board to Ensure Oversight and Accountability

Issue:  The current Draft Clean Air Rule does not identify any public facing oversight or accountability mechanism to the communities most impacted by the climate change.

Recommendation:  To ensure maximum effectiveness, accountability and equity, the Clean Air Rule should be presided over by a board of representatives from highly impacted communities. The oversight board should be given maximum authority to monitoring air quality in communities facing cumulative impacts, including the impact of the Clean Air Rule, update criteria for the cumulative impacts analysis, provide feedback on draft environmental policies and programs to protect against negative impacts to identified communities, monitor impacts of existing policies and programs on the same communities and provide a forum for an integrated and consistent statewide approach to environmental justice.  The board should also participate in the implementation of any alternative compliance mechanisms in their communities.