The “Advancing Climate Justice” conference at Fordham University in New York City (organized by the NY-based environmental justice group WE ACT) today and tomorrow, is billed as an attempt to raise awareness about the need to protect vulnerable communities from the consequences of climate change. Within that rubric, they’ve wasted little time exposing their advocacy for a carbon tax bill.

Dr. James Hansen, leading siren on the dangers of global warming, didn’t make the opening session due to sickness, and he undoubtedly was invited in some part due to his aggressive advocacy for a carbon tax regime as opposed to a cap-and-trade regime.

Cecil Corbin-Mark, of WE ACT, filled right in, asserting that the carbon tax is the preferable option for poor and minority communities. He argues that under cap-and-trade, the biggest polluters will have the most leeway to continue polluting in neighborhoods that have already suffered the worst health impacts from existing pollution. He also expressed a fundamental distrust with a market-based approach to dealing with carbon emissions, a distrust shared among most of the EJ activists here judging by the applause.

He also expressed that EJ activists and the communities they represent felt left out of the discussions that led to the existing cap-and-trade programs, specifically the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which includes ten northeastern states. Lisa Jackson, the new EPA head and a respected colleague of many of the people here, is a RGGI board member and will be addressing the conference tomorrow.

It will be interesting to see how Jackson frames her support and involvement in the RGGI cap-and-trade program (support she reiterated during her confirmation hearings) before an audience that opposes it.

According to Corbin-Mark, carbon tax legislation “allows transparency … where all Americans knows who’s collecting the taxes, and how they are spent,” with a greater possibility that the tax revenue will go toward renewable energy projects, green jobs and economic relief for the poor. Now that the cap and trade legislation seems to be moving ahead, Corbin-Mark said EJ activists are positioning themselves to ensure the dividends go toward the same purposes.

--Brentin Mock

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