Price panel tackles barriers in environmental policy

The USC Price Athenian Society seeks to foster constructive dialogue regarding innovative solutions to California’s environmental policy by hosting business leaders. Wednesday morning’s discussion focused on enhancing the economy through progressive regulations, which protect and serve the environment.

The featured speakers included Timothy O’Connor, director of the California Oil and Gas Program for the Environmental Defense Fund, and Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the president of the Western States Petroleum Association. Price School of Public Policy Professor and Research Director for the USC Schwarzenegger Institute for State & Global Policy Daniel Mazmanian served as moderator and situated the conversation around navigating contemporary policy.

In 2016, the California legislature passed SB 32, an initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2030. O’Connor advocated for the extension of cap and trade programs, current policy which controls greenhouse gas emissions by creating a limited market for companies to buy and sell emissions allowances.

“We try to find solutions to the world’s and planet’s pollution problems through leveraging the power of business and through finding solutions that can be sustainable, attainable and durable,” O’Connor said. “When you look at cap and trade, and the market-based mechanism behind it, [it is] one of the types of solutions that achieves pollution reductions at low costs and with an incentive to make them happen as fast as possible.”

O’Connor then began to unpack the “climate gap,” an analysis of the impact of climate change on people of color and communities of poverty developed in part by Professor Manuel Pastor. O’Connor echoed the beliefs of Pastor, asserting that these demographics are disproportionately burdened by pollution and climate change.

“There has been a tremendous upwelling of recognition that California’s program needs to do a few things,” O’Connor said. “It needs not only to fight climate change [but also] to be conscious and really assertive in terms of delivering benefits to communities. I call the cap and trade program that exists right now actually the single largest investment in disadvantaged communities in the world.”

California’s current cap and trade program cannot continue beyond 2020. Catherine Reheis-Boyd also endorsed the program’s continuation, asserting that the California Chamber of Commerce must litigate on behalf of local communities.

“The revenue side of this equation has become such an issue that it is imperative that they get a two-thirds vote such that the dollars can go to more broad connections,” Reheis-Boyd said. “The way we are doing it in California happens to generate revenue, and therefore how we use that revenue becomes very important.”

The speakers agreed upon California’s distinct potential to create impact across the board. From their perspectives, California is uniquely positioned to intersect economic prosperity with social and environmental consciousness.

Mai Mizuno, a sophomore majoring in international relations and visual and performing arts studies, shared her insights on the discussion.

“What was reinforced for me during this discussion was the notion that jobs and the economy do not have to come at the expense of the environment and public health, particularly for marginalized communities,” Mizuno said. “Yaking leadership on environmental governance is an opportunity to mutually reinforce both in a positive way.”