San Francisco Chronicle
By Orson Aguilar

If you follow the news, then you’ve seen repeated arguments about California’s efforts to fight climate change — fights over cap-and-trade, effects on consumers, funding for high-speed rail and more. But there’s a hidden story you may have heard less about.

It’s the story of people like Richmond resident Kendra Tramiel, who got help trading in her old, gas-guzzling clunker for a much more reliable and far less polluting hybrid. It’s a story about the residents of West Gateway Place in West Sacramento — a complex that provides affordable housing for dozens of families and whose energy-saving features and proximity to transit, bike and pedestrian routes are estimated to be equal to taking more than 140,000 cars off the road.

These stories happened because of how California uses the money it collects from polluters for the carbon they put into our air.

All over California, low-income families are getting their homes weatherized, getting help buying an electric or plug-in hybrid car and much more. Communities and local governments receive grants to plant trees and create community gardens, build affordable housing near public transit and replace smoke-belching diesel school buses with clean electric buses, among other benefits — all because of the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, powered by cap-and-trade dollars.

Some $614 million has already been put to work on projects benefiting disadvantaged communities, two-thirds of which has gone to projects directly located within those communities — with more added every day.

In a state that combines remarkable wealth and economic vitality with unacceptable levels of poverty and a growing affordability crisis, these smart greenhouse gas reduction expenditures not only clean the air in neighborhoods that need it most, they help address wealth inequality and tackle some of California’s most urgent problems.

Putting affordable homes near transit — like West Gateway Place, the MacArthur Park Apartments in Los Angeles and other projects happening statewide — not only eases our affordable housing crisis, it saves energy and cuts traffic and air pollution while reducing the amount of climate-changing carbon dioxide going into our atmosphere. Projects like this make life better for the whole neighborhood and also create good jobs.

California’s approach is unique. While a few places — including a group of northeastern states — have programs in place to put a price on carbon, none has made the sort of concrete commitment that California has made to use the money generated to attack the combined, interwoven problems of poverty and pollution. Our governor and Legislature have actually written it into law that 35 percent of carbon proceeds must benefit disadvantaged communities or low-income Californians. And it’s working.

If there’s one drawback to all this, then it’s that the public has had no easy, convenient place for individuals, local governments or community groups to find out which of these benefits they qualify for. But now they do: Resource Finder lets users answer a few short questions and be directed to the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund-funded resources that meet their needs.

Despite fierce opposition from fossil fuel interests, California has mounted a unique and successful effort to simultaneously fight climate change and uplift our most economically stressed and pollution-burdened communities. The nation and world should follow our example.

Orson Aguilar is president of the Greenlining Institute. The Resource Finder is at http://upliftca.org/resource-finder.