In a memorandum issued days before he flew to France last week for the United Nations climate summit, Brown ordered his administration to review the impact of greenhouse gas emissions policies on poor and heavily polluted communities in California.
The memo followed speeches in recent months in which Brown has emphasized an especially hazardous class of pollutants, including methane, black carbon and fluorinated gases, that sicken millions of people worldwide each year.
These pollutants, unlike carbon dioxide, remain in the atmosphere for a relatively short period of time. But they are so potent, scientists say, that removing them from the atmosphere could both slow the pace of global warming and clean the air.
Brown’s shifting focus to these pollutants is not only an environmental matter. It is a political opportunity, as well. In focusing on local pollution, the Democratic governor is seeking to broaden the appeal of his climate agenda to lawmakers who resisted the petroleum regulation that he advanced – and ultimately withdrew – in September. That effort suffered not only from a multimillion dollar lobbying campaign by California oil interests, but also from an argument by some moderate Democrats that the administration was doing too little to improve the environment where their constituents live.
During the past decade, as California ramped up its climate change program, Brown and his predecessor, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, focused heavily on reducing emissions of carbon dioxide through the establishment of a cap-and-trade program – in which polluters pay to offset emissions – and through regulations designed to reduce the carbon intensity of gasoline and other transportation fuels.
The programs were widely praised for reducing carbon emissions, and Brown and Schwarzenegger promoted them in joint appearances in Paris this week. But environmental groups and representatives of some of the state’s poorest areas accused the administration, in its focus on overall emissions, of paying too little attention to local environmental impacts.
“I’ve been speaking about short-lived climate pollutants since Day 1,” said Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, a Los Angeles Democrat who is also in Paris for the climate talks. “I have seven major freeways that crisscross my district like a serpent that chokes the air out of my constituents’ lungs.”
He described efforts to address short-lived pollutants as “a battle with the (California Air Resources Board) because … their mindset and perspective was it was (carbon) exclusively.”