FAQ: Why are frontline communities opposing carbon trading?

We recently posted this video:

The video comes after EJ groups from around the country and globe sent this letter to Governor Kate Brown and Oregon Legislative leaders, urging them to reconsider HB2020.

Some questions came up, so we’ve got answers:

Doesn’t carbon trading reduce emissions?  

No, it doesn’t. Over 40 governments worldwide have enacted carbon pricing policies, yet emissions continue to increase, especially localized pollution that poses direct threats to frontline communities. Under California’s cap and trade bill, emissions from transportation (the state’s largest source of greenhouse gases) and oil refineries have actually gone up. Moreover, UC Berkeley researchers have found that the state has issued carbon offset credits to projects that may overstate their emissions reductions by 80 million tons of carbon dioxide, which represents a third of the total cuts that the cap and trade program was supposed to achieve over the next decade.

Doesn’t HB 2020 raise money to transition to a renewable energy economy?

The vast majority of money (about 80%) of the revenue raised by HB 2020 is restricted to the Highway Trust Fund, which means it must be used to build roadway infrastructure, such as freeways, road expansion, and maintenance. Although many supporters are hopeful that it can be used to public transit infrastructure or tree planting along freeways, and other climate adaptation projects, the courts in the past have enforced a strict interpretation of Oregon’s constitutional amendment, which prevents even public transit infrastructure from being funded from the Highway Trust Fund. Any strong climate policy must be investing towards more public transportation and away from highway and road expansion. HB 2020’s financing of increased road expansion and repair is in contradiction to its stated climate goals.

How will HB 2020 impact rural communities, low-income residents, and people of color?

Because industries and utilities have been able to lobby successfully for 100% free allowances, the price impacts will largely fall on the transportation sector, meaning drivers. Rural communities, communities of color and low-income residents frequently live far from public transit amenities and have no choice not to drive. Although legislators are also advancing a transportation sub-bill which will provide a rebate to mitigate the impacts of the gas price increases on low-income drivers, it does not provide ways for low-income drivers to actually transition to low-carbon transportation alternatives, such as electric vehicles.

Who benefits from carbon trading?

Polluters and carbon traders benefit from avoiding direct taxes and penalties for polluting. Fossil fuel companies wrote the rules of carbon trading, and continue to exert tremendous influence over the rulemaking process. “Big business was at the forefront from the beginning of the [EU’s emissions trading scheme]. In 1999, a number of companies in the UK formed an ‘Emissions Trading Group’ to develop a voluntary scheme as an alternative to carbon tax proposals in order to develop a non-tax alternative to save industry money.” From the collapse of Enron in 2001, to Goldman Sachs and the housing crisis in 2008, we have many recent and historic examples of what happens when wealthy corporations write the rules for trading. Carbon trading is no different.  

Doesn’t carbon trading benefit indigenous tribes?  

Any nation controlling forests or land may also receive polluter money to create offset projects. Brazil’s government is seizing tribal forests for offsets by denying Native rights, just as the Trump Administration does with pipeline permits. These forests would then be used for private offset projects funded by California carbon traders, which “does not incentivize protection of forests and biodiversity, as forests can qualify as an offset while being clear-cut and replanted as monocultures.”

Who does carbon trading harm?

In addition to taking lands from tribes, carbon trading harms communities who live near polluters. Often these are communities of color and low-income families. Under California’s cap and trade bill, emissions increased in frontline communities in close proximity to refineries, which also means increased exposure to toxics and particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5), known as co-pollutants. “Since California’s program began, neighborhoods that experienced increases in annual average GHG and co-pollutant emissions from regulated facilities nearby had higher proportions of people of color and poor, less educated, and linguistically isolated residents,” according to a 2018 study.

Carbon traders attempt to “balance” emissions by capturing it elsewhere – long after it has impacted people who live nearby. Offsets give permission for air pollution that drives climate change and negative health effects for our children and elders. As carbon trading does not reduce emissions, it harms everyone facing climate change.

How does carbon trading limit local control?

Trading treats polluting the air as a property right. It can enable governments who take forests out of Indigenous control, creating offsets which lead to deforestation.

HB2020 takes authority to regulate carbon away from the state DEQ by repealing existing DEQ statues and creating a new unnecessary bureaucracy, the Carbon Policy Office. HB 2020 gives designates a large amount of power to this potential new office without properly naming how this office would operate and be held accountable.

Doesn’t carbon trading fund investments in frontline communities?

Carbon trading pits frontline communities against each other. It sacrifices those who live near polluters but promises investments in other areas. It ultimately gives permission to pollute communities of color already suffering the brunt of climate pollution. Frontline communities deserve reparations and decolonization to address historic injustices. Climate justice would hold polluters accountable and stop the harm, including from climate impacts.

Why oppose carbon trading now?

Oregon is on the verge of making carbon trading legal. If Oregon allows carbon trading, it is an implicit endorsement of a policy mechanism which has been shown to not work.  HB2020’s complexity makes it easier for lobbyists to have undue influence, which has been demonstrated in California and other places that have instituted carbon trading. We stand in solidarity with national and international communities resisting false solutions. If this bill passes, legislators are already claiming it as “bold climate action,” which makes it harder to advance for real climate justice solutions, since legislators and the public think it has already been done. We need community control over health and direct regulation of carbon polluters.

Posted in Against Enclosure of Wealth and Power, Against Extraction, Against White Supremacy, Air Quality, Build the New, Climate Justice, Coalition Building, Policy Advocacy.