UpLiftEsther2016 is proving to be a monster year for California climate policy, and for environmental justice wins powered by people of color.

Over the past decade, AB 32 (Pavley) and SB 535 (De León) set the benchmark for transformative environmental policy, setting a bold target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) and requiring that at least 25 percent of the revenue collected from polluting industries go to projects that benefit “disadvantaged communities” (communities most impacted by pollution and poverty). Implementing these policies, California has begun to clean our air and invest in frontline communities, while experiencing economic growth as the sixth largest economy in the world.

Last week, California stepped up to the plate again: Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 32 (Pavley) and AB 197 (Garcia) into law. SB 32 mandates that California reduce GHGs to forty percent below 1990 levels by 2030. AB 197 requires that the Air Resources Board (ARB) prioritize direct emissions reductions from large polluters. Taken together, this is huge. This commits California to the strongest GHG reduction targets in all of North America and  requires that California drastically increase energy efficiency and our reliance on renewables, while slashing our dependence on oil and reducing carbon. In the process, California will reshape nearly every facet of our economy, from housing to transportation to agriculture.

And we’re not done yet.

SB 32 and AB 197 are landmark climate policies, that will bring a healthier climate to all Californians and open the door for the ARB to reduce pollution at the source. They also begin to address the climate gap, wherein low-income and communities of color breathe the dirtiest air, suffer the brunt of extreme weather events, and spend more on household necessities than other Americans. People of color disproportionately bear the brunt, and are concentrated in neighborhoods with the greatest number of waste disposal sites and polluting industrial facilities. Race, more than income or education or any other variable, predicts where an industrial facility will be sited. This continues into the present day.

But that’s not all.

UpLiftDannyAddressing the climate gap will require not only reducing environmental burdens, but also proactively investing resources into the communities hit first and worst by poverty and pollution. Our communities bear the scars of disinvestment, redlining and environmental pollution, so we must prioritize these neighborhoods as we transition to a cleaner economy. That’s why we’re delighted that Gov. Brown signed AB 1550 (Gomez), which builds upon SB 535 to increase targeted climate investments to frontline communities. Specifically, AB 1550 mandates that a minimum of 35 percent of the revenue collected from polluters must go to disadvantaged and low-income communities that have the dirtiest air and most economic need:

  • 25 percent to projects directly within and benefiting “disadvantaged communities.” One quarter of California’s population lives in disadvantaged communities, so it’s only fair that these communities get one quarter of the funding available to help clean their air and put people to work in the growing clean energy economy.
  • 10 percent to projects that benefit low-income households and communities. Current law sends money from polluters to disadvantaged communities, but doesn’t guarantee benefits for low-income Californians who happen to live in wealthier areas. Under AB 1550, an additional 10 percent of polluter fees will go to projects that benefit low-income Californians who live outside of designated disadvantaged communities.
    • 5 percent to projects that benefit low-income households and communities located anywhere in the state
    • 5 percent to projects that benefit low-income households and communities outside of, but within ½ mile of disadvantaged communities.

AB 1550 ensures that disadvantaged and low-income communities benefit equitably from California’s Climate Investments. This year, over $900 million collected from polluting industries will be invested in programs and projects across the state to reduce GHGs:  incentives of up to $9,500 to replace a gas-guzzling clunker with a cleaner electric vehicle, grants to plant street trees in urban areas, much-needed capital to develop affordable housing near public transit, and more. This is real money that will have real impacts on low-income neighborhoods and communities of color.

We’ve also supported AB 2722 (Burke), which creates the Transformative Climate Communities program to offer neighborhood-scale block grants to fund housing, transit and renewable energy all at once, in our most vulnerable communities. Governor Brown signed AB 2722 along with AB 1550 this week.

What underlies these recent wins?

For us, this represents a crucial recognition that the transition to a clean energy economy will take resources, and that those resources must be targeted at our communities to be just. Tackling climate change is no small challenge, but this fight also presents us with a unique opportunity to reshape our society and economy to lead with equity. We reject the old patterns of marginalizing low-income and communities of color, of redlining and disinvestment and environmental racism. We fight for a cleaner world that uplifts our communities, and this legislative session, communities and legislators of color rose up to that challenge.