California Reinforces Commitment to Environmental Justice through Assembly Bill no. 617
On July 31, California’s local Air Quality Management Districts (AQMD) took an important step in reducing the disproportionate rate at which disadvantaged communities are affected by greenhouse gas emissions. As a part of the requirements included in Assembly Bill no. 617 (AB 617), AQMDs compiled a preliminary list of at-risk communities within their jurisdictions that will be included in the newly-established Community Air Protection Program (CAPP). The California Air Resources Board (CARB) will assess these recommendations and will finalize the list of communities to be included in CAPP by October 1, 2018. This action fulfills one of multiple requirements included in the state’s comprehensive approach to tackling non-vehicular air pollution and its effects on local communities.
AB 617, signed into law on July 26, 2017, establishes new standards for reporting, monitoring, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions on a community-specific basis. The bill accomplishes these goals in a number of different steps. First, it requires CARB to develop and implement a state-wide monitoring plan that highlights “high-priority locations.” The bill defines high-priority locations as communities that contain schools, hospitals, and day-care centers, as well as those considered disadvantaged under section 39711 of the California Health and Safety code. Once these high-priority locations have been identified, stationary sources emitting air pollution within the community will be required to employ real-time, on-site monitoring systems to more accurately track and assess levels of pollution in and around these locations.
While the majority of the mandates contained within AB 617 require the identification and monitoring of various sources of stationary pollution, it also contains provisions designed to abate elevated pollution levels in these high-priority locations. The bill requires CARB to prepare community emissions reduction programs that include emission reduction targets, specific and cost-effective reduction measures, as well as an implementation schedule and enforcement plan (Center for Clean Air Policy). Furthermore, AB 617 encourages community participation in the process by requiring CARB to meet and consult with affected industry as well as environmental advocacy groups when preparing the state-wide monitoring plan. Likewise, AQMDs are required to consult with local government, individuals in the community, and affected sources when implementing community emissions reduction programs.
In addition to the numerous high-priority areas currently identified by AQMDs, AB 617 establishes a plan to continuously work towards fulfilling the state-wide strategy by mandating that CARB select additional communities to participate in the program on a yearly basis. The bill also increases the maximum criminal and civil penalties for polluters for the first time in over 30 years.
AB 617 has the potential to affect California businesses in a variety of ways depending on businesses’ locations and levels of pollution. Businesses located in an area designated to be a high-priority community by their AQMD could be subject to increased regulation as a part of that area’s emissions reduction plan. Furthermore, businesses could be required to implement the Best Available Retrofit Control Technology (BARCT) mandated by their local AQMD.
The Environmental Lawyers at Bick Law LLP will continue to monitor the implementation and enforcement of AB 617 as well as its potential impacts on businesses across the state of California.