Climate Change Mitigation, Air Pollution, and Environmental Justice in California

Climate change mitigation policies can have significant co-benefits for air quality, including benefits to disadvantaged communities experiencing substantial air pollution. However, the effects of these mitigation policies have rarely been evaluated with respect to their influence on disadvantaged communities. Here we assess the air pollution and environmental justice implications of California’s cap-and-trade mitigation program through analysis of (1) the sources of air pollution in disadvantaged communities, (2) emissions-reduction offset usage under the cap-and-trade program, and (3) the relationship between reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and reductions in co-pollutant emissions. Our analysis suggests that the cap-and-trade program has limited impacts, including limited disproportionate impacts, on air quality in disadvantaged communities. The sources of most air pollution in these communities have not been subject to the cap-and-trade program, and the use of emissions-reduction offsets is only marginally higher in disadvantaged communities than in other communities. Furthermore, reductions in greenhouse gas emissions imply smaller proportional reductions in co-pollutant emissions. While climate policies lead to important air quality co-benefits in some contexts, especially through reduced coal usage, targeted air quality policies and regulations may be more effective for reducing air pollution in disadvantaged communities in California and throughout the state.