Opinion: Washington State Climate Policy (and beyond)

Jill Mangaliman April 22, 2016 0
The Spokane Street Bridge is the lower of the two bridges visible in this picture. Behind it is the higher West Seattle Bridge. • Photo by Joe Mabel

The Spokane Street Bridge is the lower of the two bridges visible in this picture. Behind it is the higher West Seattle Bridge. • Photo by Joe Mabel

Every time I visit my parents in West Seattle, I am reminded of the work we must do to heal our communities and our planet. Growing up next to the highway—plumes of smoke coming from the Nucor Steel Factory, and the Port of Seattle cranes from our windows, all the boats and cars, the traffic—these were normal sights and sounds for me as a kid. In more recent years, I learned there is a superfund site not too far away from our family home and the pier which my dad fishes from.

Yet, it upsets me that people of color aren’t considered environmental leaders when we live and breathe these piled up conditions every day. People of color have been defenders for the earth long before anyone can remember, from the indigenous peoples who protected their sacred lands from settlers to people of color pushing back against highway expansion, lead paint, and incinerators being built in their communities. It’s a history and a community that has been erased and kept out of decision making, and yet the environment justice movement is alive and well, especially in Washington state.

In 2014, Got Green, the organization I am part of, joined together with others to form Front and Centered, a statewide coalition of racial justice organizations rooted in communities of color that works to ensure that equity is at the center of any climate policy. Our principles state:

  • Equity must be at the center of policies that address climate change.
  • People of color and communities with lower incomes must receive net-environmental and economic benefits.
  • Ensure accountability and transparency through public, accessible, and culturally appropriate participation and strong enforcement.

That means that policy choices and implementation approaches must be informed by and responsive to racial, environmental, and economic analysis and that communities most impacted by climate change must be fully engaged in policy design and implementation to ensure outcomes that address equity. This includes effective engagement with lower-income communities, indigenous communities, and people of color in both policy design and implementation will help ensure equitable outcomes.

Here I hope to break down some of the upcoming climate policies in our state and if they fit our climate justice principles.

Carbon WA Initiative 732

Carbon WA submitted their signatures for a carbon tax last January, despite continual requests from racial justice groups, labor, and mainstream environmental organizations to not do so. While a carbon tax is not bad—requiring companies to pay for the pollution that they emit—organizations reject Carbon WA Initiative 732 because it fails on the climate justice principles and will actually bring harm to our communities.

Not only is I732 is regressive and projected to create no revenue, according to the Department of Revenue, it creates a deficit projected a $675 million hit to our Washington State budget, which will cut into social and health services and education that our communities need.

The climate justice principles states that impacted communities should receive net co-benefits, meaning policies and programs that address climate change should have investments directly in lower-income communities, indigenous communities and communities of color so that the economic benefits outweigh the policy’s economic burdens. While the Working Families Rebate is a good start, it leaves out people and isn’t enough to lift communities out of poverty and transition into renewable energy.

We give I732 a big thumbs down.

Governor’s Clear Air Rule

Remember those awesome kids who sued the government to do something about climate change. The governor put out an executive order—to create a rule. There have been some stakeholder conversations where we presented the climate justice principles and our recommendations for no carbon trading, and there should be a draft coming out at the spring.

Clean Power Plan

President Barack Obama unveiled the final version of his Clean Power Plan directive in August 2015 to set a national limit on carbon pollution produced from power plants. State implementation plans must be submitted to the EPA by September 2016. Regardless of whether states choose a mass-based or a rate-based system, the CPP is a sneaky way of setting up a national cap and trade system.

First of all, Washington State has weak targets. We do not have to do any reductions to meet our targets and thus would have access to allowances and energy reduction credits (ERCs) under the Clean Power Plan. Under a mass base, we would have 3.5 million credits to sell. Under a rate base, we would have 8.3 million energy reduction credits to sell. What this means is that Washington State could sell our credits to other states instead of reducing pollution at home, instead of those states reducing pollution either. Instead of reducing their pollution it is cheaper to sell their credits to another company. When you base a system to the market mechanisms, you leave equity to chance.

The Clean Energy Incentive program has also put forth false choices. While we do need the investments and resources in our communities, under the CPP we are required to opt into the cap and trade system in order to be in the program. It’s like waving money in our faces, to which we must respond: “not at the risk of other communities being harmed.” The EJ movement is one of solidarity. There are more important things in this world than money.

This past weekend, I attended the Environmental Justice Leadership Forum for Climate Change in South Carolina, with groups that included WE ACT for Environmental Justice NY/DC, Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, LA, and Kingdom Living Temple, SC. It was affirming to see other organizations and leaders across the country who shared our concerns. To the EJ community, Cap and Trade is an easy way out for business from their responsibility to reduce pollution and improve the conditions for fenceline communities who have experienced a history of environmental racism.

At the EJ Leadership Forum, some of the shared demands include: mandatory emissions reductions at the source, investments in environmental justice communities without trading, and basing our targets and plans off climate science and what is needed to address climate change and the cumulative impacts on communities. We included a comprehensive EJ analysis of the cumulative impacts on communities of color and low income peoples, because how can there be economic projections of a company’s bottom line, what about the projections on the impacts of people’s health?

Local solutions

Needless to say, we are not lacking in solutions to reducing carbon emissions. Amazing work is happening everywhere. In the Climate Justice Alliance, there are pilot projects being led by key grassroots groups building just transition models in their communities in Jackson, Mississippi; Eastern Kentucky; and San Antonio, Texas involving people-owned solar and worker-owned cooperatives.

Here in Seattle, there are also brilliant ideas coming from the ground up. Rainier Beach Action Coalition presented their neighborhood plan of creating a Food Innovation District in Rainier Beach, which could create job training for young workers and allow the community to own its own means of production of food to address the food security gap and unemployment as the same. Targeted Local Hire can be implemented on different sectors to reduce carbon by lessening people’s commutes if they are allowed to work where they live (and spend more time with their love ones). We have a chance to build affordable and accessible transit hubs that further reduces our reliance on fossil fuels and don’t displace our communities. We can create clean, living wage jobs that open pathways for people with lower-incomes, people of color, and local residents to enter the green industry workforce.

Lastly, on April 22, Seattle Mayor plans to announce the City’s EJ platform, driven by community recommendations in a partnership through the Environmental Equity Initiative.

We can do all these things to create healthy communities everywhere for everyone. We just need to re-imagine different ways of doing things and take the lead from those who live and experience environmental racism every day.

Jill Mangaliman is the executive director of Got Green, a people of color led environmental justice organization based out of South Seattle. For more information, visit www.gotgreenseattle.org.

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