Set concrete public health goals for frontline communities

Public health must be considered first and foremost in any 100% regenerative policy.

Public health, particularly in frontline communities, must be considered first and foremost in any 100% regenerative policy.
The biggest sources of pollution are located in frontline communities, where residents that live next to polluting factories, freeways, refineries, and power plants breathe dirty air. According to the Fourth National Climate Assessment, “Low-income communities already have higher rates of many health conditions, are more exposed to environ- mental hazards and take longer to bounce back from natural disasters.”[1] Although there may be increased emissions reductions overall in certain states, some fossil fuel facilities may actually increase emissions, especially in frontline communities. 100% policies should include specific public health goals, particularly the elimination of green-house gases (GHGs) and co-pollutants in frontline communities.

Air and noise pollution with aircraft

Aircraft emissions is a federal matter and not a focus of this document meant for states. However, special attention should be paid to aircraft and the transition off of fossil fuels. BIPOC and frontline communities typically live around airports and they suffer from the pollution impacts of aircrafts. As the nation transitions to 100% regenerative energy, how do air and noise pollution of aircrafts impact the health of local communities?

Policy recommendations

Define and set strong public health goals. The definition of “public health” should be expanded to include the following components and policy goals:

  • Improved air quality through the elimination of GHGs and co-pollutants in BIPOC and frontline communities. Some states set a carbon neutrality deadline. California established a goal to achieve carbon neutrality as soon as possible, and by no later than 2045, and achieve and maintain net negative emissions thereafter.[2] A Stanford study shows that “To guarantee 100 percent emissions reductions from renewable energy, power consumption needs to be matched with renewable generation on an hourly basis.”[3]
  • • Improved water quality related to the impacts of energy infrastructure. Examples of this are the elimination of water contamination from coal slurry through the development of renewables or the retirement of fracking operations that perpetually contaminate the water, soil, and air in and around the fracking operations.
  • • Eliminate legacy environmental hazards of lead, radon, mold, and asbestos found in homes and buildings in the development of energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. Lead is a highly toxic metal used for many years in products in and around homes. Lead can enter tap water through corrosion of plumbing materials. In addition, mold can be found indoors and outdoors in places that are damp, such as bathrooms and basements. Mold can worsen asthma and allergies. Asbestos fibers in homes and buildings can lead to an increased risk of lung cancer. Radon is a radioactive gaseous element produced in the disintegration of radium, a radioactive metallic element. The National Academy of Sciences estimates radon causes some 15,000 to 22,000 lung cancer deaths annually.
  • • Improve mental health through local renewable energy. The cumulative impact of BIPOC and frontline communities living at the intersection of toxic dumping, large polluting oil refineries and gas plants, and contaminated water takes a toll on the mental health of communities. 100% policies should not only encompass improvements in physical health, but also the mental health and well-being of communities.
  • • Utilize a compensatory and reparations framework. Communities that are most impacted by pollution from fossil fuels should be compensated for the healthcare necessary to treat cancer, asthma, and other diseases resulting from fossil fuels. 100% regenerative policies should support access to medical care (or support Medicare for All policies) and ensure that public health benefits continue in the transition to renewable energy.

Set strong data collection on emissions and accountability. Responsible agencies should be mandated to collect robust data on emissions, for example, the California Air Resources Board “has developed a pollution mapping tool that allows users to locate and view emissions of green-house gases (GHG) and now, for the first time, also includes criteria pollutants from large facilities in California. The tool provides an interactive platform where users can select facilities by name, location, or industrial sector; view their reported emissions using maps, charts and tabular formats; and download data for later use.”[4]

Institute a “polluter pays” system. 100% regenerative policies should institute a “polluter pays” system where industry will need to pay a steep fines if pollution is not reduced and public health goals are not met. “Polluter Pays Principle has evolved from an economic concept holding polluters accountable for the direct costs of pollution, to an actionable principle requiring polluters to pay for emergency response and clean-up costs, to having polluters pay compensation to the victims of pollution. In many cases the polluter is liable even in the absence of fault.”[5] However, advocates need to ensure that the polluter pays system fines are significant enough, so that it is not just a slap on the wrist; and that the system does not utilize market mechanisms allowing a polluter to continue to pollute.

Examples

Example of reparations framework: Advocates should utilize sacrifice zone policy examples for guidance. “Sacrifice zones are often ‘fenceline communities’ of low-income and people of color, or ‘hot spots of chemical pollution where residents live immediately adjacent to heavily polluted industries or military bases. Quite often, this pattern of unequal protection constitutes environmental racism.”[6] Sacrifice zone policies include the following provisions:

  • Industry reparations for local communities.
  • Buffer zones between polluting facilities and communities.
  • Funding for voluntary relocations.
  • Right-to-know policy which gives communities the right to know of a facility’s chemical and pollution exposure.
  • Anti-displacement provisions where long-time residents are not displaced as renewable energy is constructed and improvements to the community are made.

Example of public health language from California in Senate Bill 100: “Achieving the renewables portfolio standard through the procurement of various electricity products from eligible renewable energy resources is intended to provide unique benefits to California, including all of the following...Supplying electricity to California end-use customers that is generated by eligible renewable energy resources is necessary to improve California’s air quality and public health, particularly in disadvantaged communities identified pursuant to Section 39711 of the Health and Safety Code.”[7]

References

  1. Chappell, Carmin. “Climate change in the US will hurt poor people the most, according to a bombshell federal report.” CNBC, based on the Fourth National Climate Assessment, 26 Nov. 2018. Accessed 26 Jul. 2019.
  2. Executive Order B-55-18 to Achieve Carbon Neutrality.” Executive Department State of California.
  3. de Chalendar, Jacques A. “Why 100% renewable energy is not enough.” Joule, 24 May 2019. Accessed 4 Sep. 2019.
  4. CARB Pollution Mapping Tool.” California Air Resources Board, 12 Jun. 2017. Accessed 27 Jul. 2019.
  5. The Polluter Pays Principle.” Clear Seas, 23 Aug. 2017. Accessed on 11 Nov. 2019.
  6. Lerner, Steve. “Sacrifice Zones: The Front Lines of Toxic Chemical Exposure in the United States.” MIT Press, 2010. Accessed 27 Jul. 2019.
  7. SB-100 California Renewables Portfolio Standard Program: emissions of greenhouse gases.” California Legislative Information, 2018. Accessed 11 Nov. 2019.