Environmental Groups Hesitant To Celebrate California's Climate Milestone

California hits 2020 target of reducing carbon emissions four years early

California beat a major goal last week in the state's efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but many environmental groups across California are hesitant to celebrate the milestone. 

The California Air Resources Board announced Wednesday that statewide carbon emissions fell to 429 million metric tons in 2016, a steep drop of 12 million tons over the previous year. That means California has met the Legislature's self-imposed goal of reducing California's emissions to 1990 levels. 

“This is great news for the health of Californians, the state’s environment and its economy, even as we face the failure of our national leadership to address climate change,” said Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols in a prepared statement.

But, some environmental groups aren't ready to go home and declare "mission accomplished" just yet. Amy Vanderwarker from the California Environmental Justice Alliance says there's still lots of work for the Golden State to do in combating climate change. 

"The cap-and-trade program is not actually maximizing or even delivering air quality benefits in low-income communities and communities of color," said Vanderwarker. 

The analysis on pollution is done statewide, and does not look at specific areas. Vanderwarker says many areas in California have much higher rates of emissions. 

"Even as we applaud our overall progress, it's really important that we take a close look at the details," Vanderwarker says. 

Vanderwarker says cities with lots of trade, or manufacturing operations have higher health risks. 

"Inland Valley and Inland Empire, where goods are shipped to and warehoused. Even in the Bay Area and the Port of Oakland as well. And then we work with a lot of communities that live next to refineries." 

Critics say California's economy has paid a high price for the greenhouse gas emission reductions in the form of higher prices on gasoline, electricity and other goods, while not doing much to reduce overall climate change. California accounts for around 1 percent of global carbon emissions and critics say it's not enough. Gas prices in California are higher by as much as 15 cents a gallon over what the rest of the nation pays. 

The war on climate change is built on AB 32, a 2006 law that set a goal of reducing the Golden State's carbon emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. The bill requires big industrial firms to reduce their carbon emissions through a cap-and-trade program that give them the right to emit carbon. Electric utilities were also forced to reduce fossil-fuel consumption and move toward renewable energy sources like solar and wind power. 

Photo: Getty Images

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