Judge Ernest Goldsmith sided with six environmental justice groups and seven individuals who sued to block the cap and trade program by the California Air Resources Board, ARB.
The plaintiff groups argued that cap and trade is pollution trading "allows the worst polluters to continue or increase their pollution by buying 'reductions.'"
"These polluters are disproportionately located in low income communities of color. Instead of reducing pollution and creating jobs in California, dirty facilities, like oil refineries, get to buy credits from often unverifiable projects in other states and countries," the groups said in a joint statement Monday.
Oil refinery in California emits greenhouse gases, January 2008. (Photo by Monceau)
"ARB refused to do its job so we were left with no other choice but to sue to protect public health," said Caroline Farrell, executive director for the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment. "The court's decision ensures that ARB fully understand how its decisions impact the most vulnerable of Californians and avoid unintended negative consequences."
In his decision, filed late Friday and released to the public on Monday, Judge Goldsmith ruled that the California Air Resources Board violated the California Environmental Quality Act when it failed to properly consider alternatives to a "cap and trade" program in its plan to implement AB 32, the California Climate Solutions Act.
The judge said California air officials devoted a "scant two paragraphs to this important alternative" to a market-based trading system in their December 2008 plan.
The Air Resources Board considers the decision a setback for California, the first state to pass a greenhouse gas emissions control law, and said it will appeal the ruling.
"Claims of environmental harm from a program of tradable allowances for greenhouse gases are unfounded," the Air Resources Board said in a statement.
The cap and trade program covers some 600 industrial plants across the state.
"Allowing the most entrenched polluters to increase pollution violates our environmental rights and is not the way to stop poisoning our air and slow catastrophic climate change," said Bill Gallegos, executive director of Communities for a Better Environment, one of the plaintiff groups.
"ARB was dogmatic in its focus on cap-and-trade even though it is not effective in reducing greenhouse gases, increases pollution in heavily polluted low-income communities and communities of color, and misses the opportunity to create jobs in California," Gallegos said.
The judge also ruled that the Air Resources Board violated a key protection under the California Environmental Quality Act when it prematurely moved forward with its plan before completing environmental review.
The Air Resources Board "interpreted its regulation in a way that undermines CEQA's goal of informed decision-making," Judge Goldsmith wrote.
"ARB jumped the gun and failed to respond to the thousands of public comments it received before it approved and implemented its plan," said Tom Frantz, president of the Association of Irritated Residents, another plaintiff group. "This ruling will compel ARB to fully consider those of us most affected by its decisions, and not just move forward in its haste to make major polluters happy."
California's cap and trade program was supported by former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger over the protests of groups that favor direct regulations, or a carbon tax, on greenhouse gas emitters.
The plaintiff groups in this case are: the Association of Irritated Residents, California Communities Against Toxics, the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment, Coalition for a Safe Environment, Communities for a Better Environment, Society for Positive Action and the West County Toxics Coalition.
Air Resources Board attorneys will meet with the plaintiffs to try and reach agreement about complying with the judge's order without blocking all parts of AB 32.
The law includes limits on carbon emissions from gasoline production and distribution, cars and trucks, and refrigerants that destroy the ozone layer as well as changing the climate.
"We believe plaintiffs did not intend to put on hold efforts to improve energy efficiency, establish clean car standards and develop low carbon fuel regulations," the board said in its statement. This "broadly written" ruling, "puts at risk a range of efforts to move California to a clean energy economy."
"Now the ARB has a chance to do it right and consider real alternatives to pollution trading," Gallegos said. "We continue to be willing to work with the ARB to make the whole plan work for everybody."
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