New research links greenhouse gas reduction efforts with public health benefits in low-income and minority communities

PORTLAND, OR, and WASHINGTON, DC  (September 20, 2012) – Expanding climate change mitigation approaches beyond greenhouse gases to also target related pollutants would have enormous public health benefits in the nation’s most disadvantaged communities, according to a report released today by E3 Network and the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.

The report, Cooling the Planet, Clearing the Air: Climate Policy, Carbon Pricing, and Co-Benefits, found that the same industrial facilities that emit carbon tend to generate other harmful pollutants, such as particulate matter and nitrogen oxides, that actually pose a more immediate and direct threat to the health of nearby residents.  Since these facilities are typically located in or near low-income and minority communities, adding these harmful “co-pollutants” to a climate change mitigation strategy would have an almost immediate positive health impact on the health of millions of poor and minority Americans.  The research showed that the benefits would be comparable in economic value to the benefits of the carbon reduction by itself.
The peer-reviewed report is the first national level study to take such a careful look at the potential to further reduce harmful air pollution as part of any strategy to lower greenhouse gas emissions and reverse climate change.

“What we found was that with just modest changes in the approaches now under consideration, our climate change policies can deliver enormous additional health benefits that will be felt almost immediately in communities of color across this nation,” said Ralph B. Everett, President of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.

Danielle Deane, Director of the Joint Center’s Energy and Environment Program, added, “While we need to begin the process of reversing climate change now to protect future generations, reducing these co-pollutants as we move forward will enable today’s children to breathe easier long before they grow up.”

“Current climate proposals are missing out on an opportunity to achieve considerable health and equity gains through a common-sense approach that addresses co-pollutants such as soot and nitrogen oxides. And since the burden of these co-pollutants falls disproportionately on the poor and people of color, this is one of those opportunities for equity and efficiency to come together,” said report co-author, Manuel Pastor. “Cooling the planet and clearing the air can and should go hand in hand.”

With recommendations that strategically target specific industries, such as petroleum refineries and chemical manufacturing, as well as a small number of facilities that yield the highest emissions of air toxins, the report offers a fresh look at how carbon policies can be designed to be more equitable and efficient going forward.  “Climate change is real. So sooner or later, it will be back on the nation’s policy agenda,” said study co-author James Boyce. “The next time around, we think much more attention should be paid to the tremendous public health and air quality benefits we stand to gain by moving our economy away from fossil fuels.”

Kristen Sheeran, Director of the E3 Network who commissioned the report commented, “This report highlights often overlooked issues of environmental justice. Take for example the recent explosion on August 6 at the Chevron Refinery in Richmond, California. This refinery is the single largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions in the state of California, and over 85% of the residents who live within a three-mile radius of the plant live below the federal poverty line. We recognize an enormous risk—as well as an enormous opportunity—for public health and to address pollution where it is needed most.”

The Joint Center will host a panel discussion with the authors and The Honorable James E. Clyburn, Assistant Democratic Leader, this afternoon from 3pm to 4pm at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies; 805 Fifteenth Street, NW; 2nd Floor; Washington, DC 20005.

Read E3 Network’s executive summary or full report

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About Economics for Equity and the Environment
A project of Ecotrust, Economics for Equity and the Environment (E3 Network) includes hundreds of applied economists from across the U.S. and world who are dedicated to building a new applied economics with social equity and environmental sustainability at its core. The E3 Network works to provide timely answers to policy relevant questions, to inform decision making and public debates, and to shape economic practice. Learn more at www.e3network.org.

About Ecotrust
Ecotrust’s mission is to foster a natural model of development that creates more resilient communities, economies and ecosystems here and around the world. Over more than 20 years, Ecotrust has converted $80 million in grants into more than $500 million in capital for local people, businesses, and organizations from Alaska to California. Ecotrust’s many innovations include co-founding the world’s first environmental bank, starting the world’s first ecosystem investment fund, creating a range of programs in fisheries, forestry, food, farms and indigenous affairs, and developing new scientific and information tools to improve social, economic and environmental decision making. Ecotrust works locally in ways that promise hope abroad, and it takes inspiration from the wisdom of Native and First Nation leadership. Learn more at www.ecotrust.org  and join us on Twitter and Facebook.

About The Joint Center
The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies is one of the nation’s leading research and public policy institutions and the only one whose work focuses primarily on issues of particular concern to African Americans and other people of color. To learn more, please visit www.jointcenter.org

About the authors:
James Boyce, Ph.D. is Professor of Economics and Director of the Program on Development, Peacebuilding and the Environment at The Political Economy Research Institute (PERI), University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Manuel Pastor, Ph.D., is Professor, Sociology and American Studies & Ethnicity and Director of the Program for Environmental and Regional Equity at the University of Southern California.