Studies show that a large number of Long Beach households report having at least one member with asthma. The city’s poor air quality has long been cited as a cause for concern for residents and civic leaders alike.
That’s in part why in December Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), who represents Long Beach, traveled to Paris to attend The United Nations Climate Change Conference. While there, Lara introduced a proposal that aims to reduce air pollutants and make life a little easier for some of those most impacted by climate change.
“We know that when people talk about carbon dioxide emissions in Southern California, what they’re really talking about is emissions from folks that are driving trucks from the ports,” said Sen. Lara Communications Director Jesse Melgar.
Residents of the working-class neighborhood of West Long Beach, bounded by the twin ports of Long Beach and L.A., are particularly vulnerable to those emissions. According to the 2009 West Long Beach Health Survey, 29 percent of households in the region said that they had at least one adult with asthma, while almost 19 percent of respondents said they had one or more children with asthma.
Sen. Lara’s proposal, the Short-Lived Climate Pollutant Reduction Act of 2016, calls for a reduction of f-gases and methane by 40 percent, and black carbon emissions by 50 percent in California by the year 2030.
Black carbon is linked to respiratory problems such as asthma, while methane is a known contributor to emphysema, heart disease, and bronchitis. F-gases (or fluorinated gases) are the fastest-growing source of greenhouse gas emissions globally.
“Short-Lived Climate Pollutants are among the most harmful emissions to both community health, local air quality and global climate change,” said Lara in a statement, adding “the impact of climate change is felt most acutely at the local level.”
The proposal is a follow up to SB605, which was introduced by Sen. Lara and signed into law by Gov. Brown back in 2014 with the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. It directed the State Air Resources Board to evaluate the state’s climate pollution and develop a strategy moving forward by a target date.
Sen. Lara’s proposal is based on the Board’s recommendations, which were released back in September. The Board is required to approve and implement a strategy to reduce the proposed statewide emission cuts no later than January 1, 2018.
Taylor Thomas, who is the Research and Policy Analyst at the East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, says while Sen. Lara’s proposal is a great start, legislators need to act now to take steps towards a sustainable and zero-emissions future.
“No one can disagree with this because it is a fact supported by a mountain of evidence and studies,” said Thomas. “Across the United States, and especially in the L.A. basin, the vast majority of people living in communities exposed to polluting sources and facilities are low-income folks of color, which didn’t happen by accident.”
Thomas cites a “lack of resources, poor land use decisions and failed political leadership” as factors that he says continue to “dissect, disrupt, and destroy the health of low-income communities of color to this day.”
West Long Beach resident Brian Elrich says the air quality is so poor that on most days he can see it from his work place in Santa Monica.
“On a clear day I can see a distinct brown haze on the horizon when looking out the window from the 9th floor where I work, so I know improvements absolutely must be made,” said Elrich.
And while he agrees that Sen. Lara’s proposal is ambitious, Elrich says ambition to affect sweeping change is what he expects from leadership.
“I admire and champion Sen. Lara’s objective to place California at the forefront of combating climate change,” said Elrich.
But, he adds, there’s more to be done to improve air quality in West Long Beach.
“I would support greater restrictions on emissions and stiffer penalties for emission violations,” said Elrich. “I would also love to see meaningful tax breaks or something similarly attractive for those who drive hybrid or electric cars and encourage others to follow suit.”
For Thomas, the most important piece of any harm-reduction conversation is prevention.
“If we can prevent a problem, we don’t need to mitigate it down the line,” he said. “People need to start being more conscious about where they get their goods, foods, and energy from, and start taking steps to harvest them sustainably.”