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Environmental Justice & Healthy Communities

The Attorney General stands up for environmental justice communities, be they urban or rural, whether located in southern, central or northern California. Every Californian should have the opportunity to live in a community that is healthy and safe. This means that individuals must be able to make informed decisions about the environment in which they live, work, and play, and local governments must make informed choices in the planning and development of communities. Much of the Attorney General's environmental work seeks to protect and ensure informed decision making. He wants every parent to know the Attorney General's Office has done everything it can for the health of their kids. That's what makes California a place worth living in, and that's worth fighting for.

Healthy Communities - children playing in a school yard.

"Environmental Justice" is defined in California law as the fair treatment of people of all races, cultures, and incomes with respect to the development, adoption, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. (Cal. Gov. Code, § 65040.12, subd. (e).) California is a leader in enacting laws specific to environmental justice, including a law directing funding for greenhouse gas reduction measures to disadvantaged communities and another that requires environmental justice to be addressed in local governments planning (see CEQA below). In addition, California's Environmental Protection Agency and its Office of Health Hazard Assessment have developed an easy to use web-based screening tool called CalEnviroScreen that the public and government can use to help identify communities that are disproportionally burdened by multiple sources of pollution. These agencies have also documented the disproportionate impacts of climate change on disadvantaged communities.

The Attorney General's Office has several tools it uses to advance environmental justice.

CEQA

One of those tools is the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which requires government, in permitting new projects, consider potentially significant environmental impacts on communities already burdened with pollution. In 2013, the Attorney General filed a CEQA action over the approval of a distribution center in the City of Jurupa Valley next to a minority residential community called Mira Loma Village. The settlement of that action resulted in significant project changes and other measures to substantially reduce the public health impacts. Currently, the Office is litigating a CEQA case against the Port of Los Angeles concerning its approval of a large rail freight terminal near the Port of Los Angeles. If built, the new railyard would result in air quality, noise, and traffic impacts on the nearby West Long Beach community, which is already overburdened with pollution from freight operations. The trial court's decision in favor of the Attorney General and other petitioners is on appeal. The Attorney General is particularly concerned that land use planning and permitting decisions not place additional burdens on environmental justice communities.

There have been several important developments in CEQA law. Most recently, in 2016, the Legislature and Governor Brown enacted SB 1000, which requires environmental justice to be addressed in local government General Plan documents, that planners engage with environmental justice communities, and that air quality analyses be completed. The California Office of Planning and Research is currently in the process of revising the CEQA Guidelines for General Plans. In 2012, the Attorney General's Office also released a Fact Sheet titled "Environmental Justice at the Local and Regional Level, Legal Background." The Attorney General's Office is in the process of reviewing and updating this Fact Sheet to reflect new developments in California law.

Prop 65

Another tool the Attorney General's Office uses to protect the health of vulnerable populations in environmental justice communities and elsewhere is the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986 or Proposition 65. In 2016, the Office, along with eleven California District Attorneys and a nonprofit organization, reached a settlement with food industry giant Mondelēz International, Inc., formerly Kraft Foods, for selling ginger snap cookies containing lead in excess of California limits without the warning required by California's Proposition 65. In 2012, the Office reached a settlement that required the manufacturer of Brazilian Blowout products which were exposing salon workers and their customers to formaldehyde to pay $600,000 in fees, penalties and costs, and to cease falsely advertising their products as "formaldehyde free." These are just two of examples of how the Attorney General's enforcement of Proposition 65 brings tangible benefits to those most vulnerable to exposure to harmful chemicals.

Greenwashing

Monitoring companies' claims about the environmental benefits of their products, and taking steps to stop any unsubstantiated claims (a practice known as greenwashing), is another way the Attorney General helps maintain healthy communities through the flow of accurate information.

Health in All Policies

The Attorney General participates in the Health in All Policies Task Force, a multi-agency task force that looks for ways to promote a healthier and more sustainable California.

Enforcement Referrals

State Departments, Boards and Agencies also refer numerous enforcement matters impacting environmental justice communities to the Attorney General. For example, the California Air Resources Board refers numerous instances of violations of diesel truck and passenger vehicle emissions rules to the Attorney General for enforcement. And, the State Water Resources Control Board and Regional Boards call upon the Attorney General's Office to bring enforcement actions when they have evidence of unlawful contamination of water resources.

Pushing the Federal Government

In addition, where the Federal Government has failed to do its job to protect environmental justice communities and vulnerable populations, the Attorney General won't hesitate to act. In June 2017, Attorney General Becerra sent a letter to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt for his failure to follow the law and make the required safety finding for chlorpyrifos, a pesticide used on more than 80 food crops, including many consumed by children.

The Attorney General considers environmental justice in all of his actions and uses the legal tools available to ensure that all Californians enjoy the benefits of a healthy, safe environment.

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