New map could refocus state's pollution battles
Tony Barboza, Los Angeles Times, April 22, 2014
The California Environmental Protection Agency (Cal/EPA) has released a statewide assessment of census tracts most burdened by pollution, providing a powerful tool to pressure regulators to clean up neighborhoods with long-standing health risks.
The environmental health assessment, published in draft form this week, was a major update to an initiative that includes an interactive online map and is being refined over time by Cal/EPA. The state's first such report last year assessed the state by ZIP Code and yielded broadly similar results, showing that Latinos and African Americans make up a disproportionately high percentage of the population in areas most affected by pollution. But the previous list was criticized by environmental justice groups and researchers who complained that ZIP Codes were too large and arbitrary to reveal much.
The screening and ranking tool, called CalEnviroScreen, was developed to pinpoint the communities with the highest exposure and vulnerability to multiple environmental hazards, including polluted air and water, waste facilities and contaminated soil. The rankings are not based only on measures of environmental exposure: they also take into account socioeconomic characteristics and health data on residents to assess the overall vulnerability of communities. Those factors include poverty, education, unemployment, rates of asthma and low-birth-weight infants. In total, 19 criteria are considered.
State Sen. Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) wrote a 2012 law that requires the state to spend 25% of the auction proceeds from California's GHG-cutting cap-and-trade program to benefit disadvantaged communities that face disproportionate effects from pollution and climate change. Governor Jerry Brown's proposed budget for 2014-15 would set aside $225 million of $850 million in proceeds. Budget documents say projects could include energy-efficiency upgrades for homes in low-income areas, improvements to bus and rail systems, urban forestry projects and programs to fund cleaner trucks and equipment near ports, rail yards and distribution centers.
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