Global Warming and the Poor: Pricing Carbon

In 2006, California passed Assembly Bill, 32, which is made up of several policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including a cap-and-trade system. Because low-income people and people of color suffer disproportionately from the effects of rising temperatures and pollution, California passed Senate Bill 535 in 2012, which mandated that 25 percent of the revenues from cap-and-trade go to programs that improve the lives of people in these communities.

The rest of the country, our state included, has a long way to go as far as imposing a carbon pricing system like California’s. HB 3470, a bill that could have put a price on carbon and pollution here in Oregon, never got out of the Ways and Means committee and did not pass.

Margaret Tallmadge, environmental justice manager for the advocacy group Coalition of Communities of Color (CCC), testified in favor of that bill to the Oregon House Energy and Environment Committee this year. In her testimony, she stressed the disproportionate impact of global warming on low-income people and people of color.

“Communities of color make up 25 percent of Oregon’s population, including 40 percent of children aged zero to five,” she said. “While climate change is a major threat to the quality of life for all Oregonians, it has a disproportionate impact on the physical, mental, financial, and social well-being of communities of color and low-income communities. Persistent problems include lack of access to green spaces, healthy foods, employment and transit; worse air, soil and water quality in proximity to our most ethnically diverse neighborhoods; increased temperature in urban heat islands contributing to illnesses and deaths; degradation of air quality linked to asthma and cardiovascular disease; and a limited ability to respond to increasing costs of energy, housing and food.”

Ms. Tallmadge went on to say that CCC is in favor of legislation like California’s SB 535. She also pointed out the role of activism in bringing about environmental justice. “California’s legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would not exist if not for the support of social and environmental justice leaders and organizations that lobbied on behalf of the policies and reinvestment component,” she said. Ms. Tallmadge asserted that “both protections for low-income households, such as energy assistance, and an equitable reinvestment model is a way to address the needs of low-income communities of color. Revenues should be used to support a range of socially and environmentally beneficial investments, with a central role of eliminating racial and environmental inequities. These investments must respond directly to the priorities of low-income communities and communities of color.”

Representative Peter Buckley (D-Ashland), confirmed that putting a price on carbon is on the agenda for the 2016 Oregon legislative session and said the needs of low-income communities will figure into that. “I’m impressed with California’s cap-and-trade program, with its inclusion of a clear priority for disadvantaged communities and a ‘carbon credit’ on utility bills to help low-income households deal with price increases related to carbon pricing. The options for addressing impacts to disadvantaged communities range from health care to water infrastructure to public transit and beyond. Given the fact that the impacts of climate change are so significant, I believe we need to have some flexibility with the program to ensure we target resources in a smart way,” he said.

Let us capture some of California’s innovative spirit and mobilize massive public demand for a carbon pricing system here in Oregon. The lives of the most vulnerable people in Portland and around the world are on the line and more will be on the line every day we do nothing about global warming. Because state representatives are very busy during the legislative session, they must hear our voices now and with a renewed sense of urgency. There is no time to waste.

-Tina Gallier