John Balmes

John R. Balmes, MD

Professor of Medicine at UCSF and Professor of Environmental Health Sciencesin the School of Public Health at UC Berkeley

Air Quality, Climate Change, and Public Health: California’s Integrated Approach

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) was established in 1967, several years before the US EPA.  It has been responsible for regulating the state’s air quality since its inception and has typically been ahead of the EPA on many clean air policies.  One of these policies has been the Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) mandate that has forced automobile manufacturers to design clean cars.  Without the ZEV mandate there would not be hybrid, battery electric, or fuel cell vehicles on the market today.

In 2006, the California legislature passed and Governor Schwarzenegger signed AB32, the “Global Warming Solutions Act.”  This bill mandated reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 (a 30% reduction) and a further 80% reduction below 1990 levels by 2050.  CARB was given the responsibility to oversee the implementation of policies designed to meet these ambitious goals.  The approach taken by CARB has been to try to integrate strategies to improve air quality with those designed to mitigate climate change.  Examples of programs that lead to reduction in emissions of both criteria air pollutants and GHGs are the diesel Truck and Bus Regulation, Advanced Clean Cars Program, Sustainable Communities Strategy, and Sustainable Freight Initiative.  Public health benefits accrue from the implementation of these programs.  Even the state’s signature Cap-and-Trade Program provides public health co-benefits.  For example, 25% of the revenue from this program is required to be spent on projects that benefit disadvantaged communities; at least 10% of the 25% must be spent on projects located in these communities.  An innovative mapping tool, Cal Enviroscreen, was developed to identify disadvantaged communities on the basis of high exposure to environmental stressors as well as lower socioeconomic status.  In summary, California has adopted a multi-pronged policy approach to climate change mitigation that has integrated efforts to reduce GHG emissions with those necessary to achieve public health benefits.