New evidence suggests California’s environmental policies prefer to protect whites – Advice Eating

Asian and Hispanic communities experience air pollution from economic activities significantly more than predominantly white neighborhoods across the state of California, according to new research from the University of California San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy.

The study, published in the journal Nature Sustainability, suggests that overall, California’s environmental regulations favorably protect white, non-Hispanic people within the state from air pollution.

The study focused on 2020, when the state issued on-site housing orders in response to COVID-19. Researchers compared air pollution patterns both before and during the shutdown, using data from public and private air monitoring networks and satellite measurements of the pollutant gas nitrogen dioxide. After considering various factors, even how many local communities sought shelter, the researchers found that during the period when the “personal” economy was closed, neighborhoods with high Asian and Hispanic populations experienced a disproportionate drop in air pollution. That is, the opposite is true when everything is going as usual.

They also found that black communities did not see a similar disproportionate benefit in air quality during the shutdown. Black California residents faced higher levels of pollution than whites during closures, when only essential businesses were operating. The same applied after the lifting of the COVID-19 restrictions. This suggests that power plants, electricity generators, and other sources of emissions that were not restricted during shelter-in-place orders are regularly exposing these populations to dirtier air.

The paper also notes that when economies are fully functioning, low-income communities are constantly exposed to more pollution, and that these neighborhoods have also seen disproportionately cleaner air during the shutdown. However, when the researchers included income in their analysis, it did not explain the results of higher air pollution levels for Asian, Hispanic communities across the state.

“The income explains only about 15 percent of the disproportionate drop in air pollution that Asian and Hispanic communities have experienced during the shutdown,” said Jennifer Burney, the Marshall Saunders Chancellor Endowed Chair in Global Climate Policy and Research at the School of Global Policy and Strategy . “This may come as a surprise to many because people tend to confuse income and race, both because systemic discrimination is hard to tolerate and because we have accepted that we live in a world where individuals are challenged by higher property prices Less polluted areas can ‘buy’ cleaner air.”

Burney added: “The COVID shutdown has given us a glimpse of what pollution patterns look like when most of the economy is shut down and it has shown that while there is some small overlap, income does not reflect racial and ethnic bias explains how our economy is formed and disperses pollution.”

Burney and the research team see this as evidence of environmental failure. In California, all emissions are regulated—transportation, energy, construction, and other industries must meet strict environmental standards.

“You’d think that in a state with strict environmental policies, where we track what’s being emitted where, our regulatory system could do a good job of protecting everyone equally,” Burney said. “But this is really strong evidence of systemic bias. Sources of pollution from everything that has been shut down, transport, shops, restaurants etc add up under normal conditions. This flips the whole system, exposing racial and ethnic minorities to greater pollution.”

The health effects of poor air quality are far-reaching. Unhealthy air is associated with higher infant and adult mortality, as well as respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

While the study is limited to the state of California, the researchers believe the differences in air quality between ethnic groups most likely apply to other states as well. The paper contains various policy recommendations. For example, the biggest source of pollution affected by the slowdown in the pandemic has been transportation, so policies that affect emissions from transportation could have important implications for California’s underrepresented communities.

Furthermore, since the differences in air pollution experienced by racial and ethnic minorities cannot be explained by income, this means that environmental policies based solely on income cannot be expected to ensure strong racial and ethnic equality reach. This suggests that when evaluating environmental regulations, various metrics should be included to meet average environmental standards and promote equity.

“There is no clear, quantitative equity criterion used in regulatory analysis to protect against environmental racism,” said co-author Katharine Ricke, assistant professor at the School of Global Policy and Strategy and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. “For example, if an industry wants to build a factory, it needs to produce an environmental assessment report, but that report doesn’t need to include a set of metrics to show how different demographics nearby would be affected. If industries were required to run atmospheric models to show that the proposed plant will not disproportionately affect nearby minority neighborhoods, it could lead to a significant shift in the design of fairer environmental regulation.”

The authors also suggest involving communities in the planning process when proposing changes to their environment that could affect air quality.

“This isn’t new, but procedural fairness is also crucial,” said co-author Pascal Polonik, a PhD student at Scripps Oceanography. “Communities need to engage in meaningful ways to ensure everyone has access to what should be a democratic process.”

Polonik added that “by improving access to information, such as B. Data from crowd-sourced sensors used in the study could help communities to be part of informed decision-making. Unfortunately, these sensors tend to be located in the places where they are least affected by unwarranted pollution.”

Other authors of the paper are Richard Bluhm, Assistant Professor at Leibniz Universität Hannover and Fellow in the Department of Political Science at UC San Diego; Kyle Hemes, postdoctoral fellow at Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment; Luke Sanford, assistant professor at Yale University’s School of the Environment; Susanne Benz, postdoctoral fellow at Dalhousie University; and Morgan C. Levy, assistant professor at the School of Global Policy and Strategy and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

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