Can California’s Cap and Trade Actually Address Environmental Justice?


Since California’s program launched in 2013, questions have swirled about whether cap and trade has helped or hurt people living in the shadow of the state’s largest emitters.

Growing up in North Richmond, California, Denny Khamphanthong didn’t think much of the siren that wailed once a month, every first Wednesday at 11 a.m. The alarm is a test of the community’s emergency warning system, which has alerted residents to numerous incidents over the years at the nearby Chevron oil refinery. One accident there—a 2012 fire—sent a cloud of black smoke billowing over San Francisco Bay and left thousands of local residents struggling to breathe.

Now, when Khamphanthong explains the sound to his young nieces, he sees the fear in their eyes. “I forget that this isn’t normal,” he says. Nor is the fact that Khamphanthong and most of his childhood friends carried inhalers. Richmond, a diverse, industrial city where housing prices and incomes have lagged behind its Bay Area neighbors, has poor air quality and some of the highest rates of respiratory and cardiovascular disease in California.

“There’s a lot of beautiful things that happen out of [Richmond],” says Khamphanthong, a community organizer with the Asian Pacific Environmental Network whose family emigrated from Laos in the 1980s. “But at the same time, when you look at the reality of it, it is sad.”

Pollution, poverty, and race collide in many other disadvantaged communities across California—and the country—and some argue that the state’s climate policies haven’t helped. While California has already cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 13% since their peak in 2004, many residents still suffer from high levels of air pollution—much of it produced by fossil fuels.

Read the full story in YES! Magazine.

Pumpjacks extracting oil in California. (Credit: CGP Grey via Wikimedia Commons)