18 february 2016

Inside the uphill battle against carbon trading

Emily Holden, E&E reporter, ClimateWire: Thursday, February 18, 2016

Jihan Gearon grew up loving the outdoors, taking walks with her mother and grandmother and playing in the woods in rural Fort Defiance, on the Navajo Nation near the Arizona and New Mexico border.

But when she left home to study environmental science at Stanford University in California in 1999, she felt as if she never fit in. Having lived in one of the poorest areas in the country where about a third of homes don't have electricity and her family still does not have wireless Internet access, Gearon couldn't relate to what she saw as "superficial" environmentalism.

"A lot of people in my class would be barefoot, not showered, not shaved. And say things like, 'I can't believe you eat meat,' and have that really kind of judgmental [attitude]," Gearon said. "But then they're driving a BMW."

Those experiences in school and in the first few years of her career drove Gearon toward the environmental justice movement and her position as executive director of the Black Mesa Water Coalition, which advocates for native water rights and against fossil fuel development on Navajo land. That's part of why she is now working with a national coalition of groups that oppose using carbon trading to cut greenhouse gas emissions under U.S. EPA's Clean Power Plan.

Organizations united under the Climate Justice Alliance say carbon markets will keep coal plants online in poor communities and near people of color, allowing the facilities to churn out plant-warming emissions and co-pollutants blamed for health problems including asthma and heart attacks. Last month, the alliance staged quiet demonstrations at regional EPA offices around the country to warn staffers who will review state carbon plans of trading's risks to certain populations.

But big national environmental groups, like the Natural Resources Defense Council, are working on the other side, pushing market-based state plans as the cheapest, most effective way to cut carbon emissions from power plants. They argue the Clean Power Plan would be weaker without its trading-focused approach that allows generators to take credit for switching to lower-carbon natural-gas-fired and renewable electricity.


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