As the California state legislature opens its 2022 session, one of the most pressing items is consideration of two-year bills that stalled in their house of origin in 2021. These bills have only until the end of January to pass out of their house of origin. Of these bills, one we feel is especially urgent is SB 342, by Senators Lena Gonzalez and Sydney Kamlager, which would add two much-needed environmental justice representatives to the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) Board. SB 342 is sponsored by Communities for a Better Environment and supported by a wide range of environmental justice groups, 350 groups, and other environmental groups across the state.

SCAQMD Air Quality Forecast for Jan 1 2022

The area governed by the SCAQMD represents almost half of the state’s population and continues to have some of the worst air quality in the country. The South Basin is home to 6 refineries, the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, hundreds of active oil and gas extraction sites and multiple freeways. Those communities most impacted by poor air quality in the South Coast basin tend to be communities of color and those that are economically disadvantaged. This means that SCAQMD Board rulings have a very direct impact on ensuring, or denying, environmental justice for long-suffering communities.

With the supply chain crunch leading to dozens of ships idling in the bay, ports running 24/7 and a record-breaking amount of goods coming through the Port of Los Angeles (North America’s largest port), the need for more community input in air quality protection is as important as ever. As Manuel Pastor, a sociology professor at the University of Southern California told the New York Times, “[discussion around the port backlog] has focused on ‘How do we maximize the throughput?’ But the throughput is through someone’s neighborhood.”

The current SCAQMD Board is made up of 13 members, 10 of whom are appointed by local governments for 4-year terms. Unfortunately, the makeup of the SCAQMD Board has not fully and fairly reflected the voices of disadvantaged communities, who often find it difficult to participate in Board hearings for a multitude of reasons. Among many examples, the SCAQMD certified the final environmental report for a project that would integrate two refinery facilities in Wilmington and Carson, creating the largest refinery on the west coast. This vote was made after thousands protested the merger at a rally which included Jane Fonda, Kevin De Leon and multiple other speakers, and despite a joint Swedish/SCAQMD study illustrated how air pollution has been significantly underestimated in environmental studies for the Tesoro project. I was present on June 2, 2017 when community members showed up at the SCAQMD Board meeting to protest the decision, led by organizers at CBE. Rather than listen to our concerns, the Board members quickly adjourned and walked out of the room. Additionally, despite years of lobbying from environmental and community groups, the SCAQMD Board failed to take action to phase out the very dangerous chemical, MHF, at two local refineries.

While the SCAQMD has taken many significant actions which help local communities, they have failed to take action in too many instances where the desires and needs of environmental justice communities have been made crystal clear.  Unfortunately, some board members have been entirely dismissive of the communities’ concerns and have complained and/or tried to limit public comment at meetings. We strongly believe that the addition of two new representatives who must reside in and work directly with communities in the South Coast basin that are disproportionately burdened by high levels of pollution will better achieve environmental justice.

Yes on #SB342

You can help by calling your State Senator and asking them to support SB 342 and by sharing your support for this bill on social media.

You can read our support letter for SB 342 here.

– Sherry Lear, on behalf of the 350 Southland Legislative Alliance Steering Committee