Environmental Equity

AB 32 (Global Warming Solutions Act of 1996) commits California to reducing greenhouse gas emissions back down to 1990 levels by 2020. AB 32 required the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to create a strategy, called a Scoping Plan, to meet this goal. The Scoping Plan laid out a proposed set of actions, including a cap-and-trade program that limits the greenhouse gas emissions from major sectors of our economy, including large, industrial polluters. Facilities subject to the cap must obtain permits (called allowances) to emit these gases. These allowances are auctioned by the state, and businesses can then sell or trade them. California’s cap-and-trade program was launched in November 2012 and has already generated hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue.


Cap-and-trade revenues should be leveraged to bring jobs and investment to communities hit hardest by pollution and to alleviate the impacts of climate change in those neighborhoods.

Greenlining wants to ensure that these funds reach underserved communities. In 2012, we joined with the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Coalition for Clean Air, NAACP and Natural Resources Defense Council to co-sponsor SB 535, authored by Sen. Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), to direct funds into underserved communities to green up these areas and create access to good, career-path jobs. SB 535, signed into law in September 2012, requires that 25 percent of the cap-and-trade funds go to projects that will benefit disadvantaged areas and that at least 10 percent must be allocated to projects actually located in disadvantaged communities. The law defines “disadvantaged communities” as those that are disproportionately affected by pollution and suffering from high concentrations of unemployment, low levels of homeownership, high rent burden, and low levels of educational attainment. See maps of these areas here.

Now that SB 535 is law, we are making sure these funds reach the communities most in need. This includes working with the governor’s administration and the legislature to direct funding to the programs prioritized by underserved communities and to ensure transparency and accountability when the funding is allocated.


SB 535 was a great start, but we can and should do even more to bring the benefits of the growing clean energy economy to underserved communities and low-income households. In 2016, we helped to pass a new bill, AB 1550, to do just that. AB 1550 will send more dollars paid by polluters to the neighborhoods with the most smog and greatest needs, and also help low-income families throughout California save money and access clean energy – wherever in our state they happen to live. Learn more here.


We also work at the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to ensure accountable implementation of cap-and-trade as it applies to the electric sector industries.

Our work includes ensuring that cap-and-trade proceeds are returned to consumers as rebates on their electricity bills, called the Climate Credit. We pushed hard for this credit, which protects California families from having to foot the bill even as we make sure electricity rates reflect the cost of pollution in order to encourage cleaner alternatives. The California Climate Credit is issued twice a year, in April and October, to Californians who get their electricity from one of the state’s three investor-owned utilities. The amount ranges from approximately $30 to $40 each time, depending on the utility company involved, and is the same for each household within a particular company’s service territory.

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