Gov. Jerry Brown was in Bell Gardens on Wednesday to sign a new air pollution control law passed last week. It was drafted as a companion measure to a bill extending the state program to fight climate change, known as cap-and-trade. Still, the new pollution law remains controversial.
Amid a crowd of local politicians and chanting protestors from environmental justice groups, Brown vowed fighting local air pollution from stationary sources was as important as reducing greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global climate change.
"Today, we’re taking a step to take the poison out as well as increase the prosperity and the goodies for all," he said from the courtyard of the Neighborhood Youth Center in Bell Gardens.
He then directly addressed a small crowd of protesters chanting and holding signs outside the event.
"Hey hey, hey hey! Cap and trade is here to stay - that's our way!," he said to cheers from his supporters inside the courtyard.
The bill he signed - AB 617 - seeks to establish a statewide system for monitoring and controlling toxic air contaminants.
It was designed to help get to the two-thirds majority needed to pass the cap-and trade extension last week.
Cap and trade reduces carbon dioxide emissions from major industries in the state by setting a cap on emissions that drops by three percent every year. Polluters must either reduce their emissions or buy permits to continue polluting.
Lawmakers from places with chronic air pollution vowed they wouldn't support cap-and trade without AB 617.
But a lot of environmental justice groups say the bill doesn't goes far enough. They say it still isolates pollution in poor neighborhoods and doesn’t address the biggest polluters - cars and trucks.
Outside the youth center, community organizer Jan Victor Adasan with the group East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice was frustrated with the celebration over the bill signing.
"Yes, it's going to clean up other neighborhoods, but it's going to continue to not just pollute our neighborhoods, but make them localized hotspots," he told KPCC.
Angelo Logan, co-founder of East Yard, also expressed skepticism.
"This is a trojan horse of sorts," he said of AB 617. "This bill is passed to allow for cap and trade, and it's also going to allow for industry to continue to concentrate in our communities with little to no reductions."
The Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice along with other environmental justice organizations released an open letter to Bell Garden's Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia - who authored the bill - outlining their concerns with the bill.
"People are getting sick and dying from harmful air pollution now, and we need relief now," the letter stated.
“This bill does not enact the immediate steps needed to help people who are getting sick and dying from harmful air pollution," Michele Hasson, policy specialist at the Center, said in a statement today.
"AB 617 was touted as an environmental justice win, but we know that community concerns were marginalized and community-based solutions dismissed as politically unviable.”
There’s also worry about money. Environmental justice leaders say AB 617 is unfunded.
Garcia told KPCC there's still work to be done.
"You're right, this doesn't fix all of our problems," she said, addressing the protestors. "We have to keep building on today."
Garcia had words of encouragement for her fellow lawmakers. "The same way they hit yes on this bill, they hit yes on the future bills that we're going to have to help address some of the additional problems we have here in our backyard."