How Driverless Cars Could Work for Good Instead of Evil

Grist
By Nathanael Johnson

Our gas-guzzling car culture is about to change forever, but not necessarily for good.

The shift from gasoline-power to electric, the rise of ridesharing, and the invention of self-driving vehicles will soon overhaul transportation. A new report, just published by the Greenlining Institute, a racial equity nonprofit, says these three revolutions will speed us into a gridlocked and polluted future unless we put the right policies in place.

Leave the future of transportation to the free market, and we’d find ourselves in a world where current problems just get worse, said Hana Creger, a program manager at Greenlining. Under this scenario, the roads jam with cars serving as mobile offices to oligarchs and their lackeys typing away on smartphones.

“Meanwhile, the less well-off struggle to get around in cities that are more congested and polluted than ever with deteriorating public transit that is defunded due to ridership loss,” Creger said. “Millions of transportation workers lose their jobs while companies double their profits.”

It’s a grim vision. But if governments take action, advances in technology could help the poor, elderly and disabled get around. There are roughly 700,000 households in America without a car or access to public transit, and some 500,000 people with disabilities who never leave their homes. The status quo isn’t exactly great for those who can afford their own car: As the report points out, “the average commuter in America spends 42 hours a year stuck in traffic, and spends 17 hours a year looking for parking.”

Creger imagines fleets of autonomous electric vehicles opening the roads to everyone, especially those poorly served by the current private-car system. Small, driverless buses running on electricity would help knock fossil-fueled cars off the road. With transportation the number one source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, that would go along way toward ushering in a clean-energy future,

Previous analyses (like this 2014 report from RAND), have argued that the merits of autonomous vehicles hinge on putting good regulations in place. Greenlining’s report take it a step further by looking at the way that changes in the transportation system could affect people of color and disadvantaged communities.

Greenlining suggests that cities and states pass regulations to discourage single-occupancy driverless cars, and employ driverless shuttles to cut pollution and expand the mobility of those who often struggle to get around.

Allanté Whitmore, a PhD student researcher studying autonomous vehicles at Carnegie Mellon University, agreed with Greenlining’s analysis that government policy will determine whether the ongoing transportation revolutions will be a blessing that lifts people out of poverty or a scourge that further entrenches inequities and lengthens commutes.

The Greenlining report points out that the poorest 20 percent of Americans spend 40 percent of their income on keeping their cars running. We don’t need to wait for autonomous buses to put better transportation policy in place, Whitmore said, but “the appeal of this technology really elevates the discussion. It gets people excited.”

And it’s not just hype. Whitmore’s research suggests that lower fuel and employment costs could allow cities to significantly expand their bus systems using driverless electric shuttles. Running on electricity is cheaper than running on gas, and cities wouldn’t have to pay salaries for bus routes without drivers. “These new technologies are a lot more cost efficient,” she said.

But technology is advancing faster than policy. Driverless buses are already on the roads. “We have deployed our shuttles in 23 places around the world and there are many more projects underway,” said Lauren Isaac, director of business initiatives at EasyMile, an autonomous bus company. Oslo, Norway plans to have autonomous buses in service this year, and a driverless bus named Èrica has moved thousands of passengers in Spain.

Technology can make just about any climate problem better or worse, it all depends on how we use it.

“Autonomous is not a silver bullet solution for our transportation problems,” Creger said. “Just because a car can drive itself doesn’t mean that it will reduce congestion and pollution. It’s just like how electric vehicles are not a silver bullet solution. They do nothing to decrease congestion, our car dependency, and are still only accessible to wealthy people.”

New Report: Will the Self-Driving Vehicle Revolution Mean Transportation Heaven or Hell?

First of Its Kind Analysis Asks Whether Autonomous, Shared and Electric Vehicles Will Worsen Inequality for Marginalized Groups

Contact: Bruce Mirken, Greenlining Institute Media Relations Director, 510-926-4022; 415-846-7758 (cell)

OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA – Three simultaneous revolutions—electrification, vehicle sharing, and self-driving, autonomous vehicles—are poised to radically change transportation. A new report from The Greenlining Institute, Autonomous Vehicle Heaven or Hell? Creating a Transportation Revolution that Benefits All is the first in-depth analysis of a wide range of mobility, health, and economic implications of these revolutions for marginalized groups like people of color, the poor, the elderly, and those with disabilities.

“If we let the market make key decisions without regulation, we’re headed toward transportation hell – personal autonomous vehicles just for the rich, congesting our streets and leaving others stuck with more traffic, longer commutes and deteriorating public transit,” said lead author Hana Creger, Greenlining’s Environmental Equity program manager. “To get to a transportation heaven that’s designed for all people – less traffic, safer streets, cleaner air, more livable communities and high-quality, affordable mobility – government at all levels will have to act. Funny as it may sound, the arrival of self-driving cars means we can’t be asleep at the wheel.”

Key findings of the report include:

  • A “heaven” future would center on FAVES – fleets of autonomous vehicles that are electric and shared – improving mobility for all, cutting traffic and pollution while enabling space now wasted on parking to be put to productive use.
  • Even with FAVES, we must still prioritize the healthiest, most sustainable options like walking, biking and carbon-free public transit.
  • Ensuring that marginalized groups aren’t left out will require specific policy interventions to:
    • Disincentivize personal autonomous vehicles and promote clean, shared transportation models – FAVES – via economic carrots and sticks such as equitable road pricing that waives fees for low-income people.
    • Target economic opportunities and community benefits to marginalized populations.
    • Ensure fair labor practices and a Just Transition for truck and bus drivers and other workers who will be displaced by self-driving vehicles.
    • Ensure that autonomous and shared vehicle services are available in low-income communities and priced affordably.
    • Provide equal access to FAVES for all marginalized populations as well as booking and payment models that are workable for those without smartphones or internet access.

“The companies rushing to build and deploy self-driving cars will think only of profits unless we push them to do more,” Creger said. “We can have a true transportation revolution that cleans our air, unclogs our streets, provides high-quality jobs, and makes life better for all, especially those who have the least, but we won’t get there without rules to make the industry move in the right direction.”

###

THE GREENLINING INSTITUTE
A Multi-Ethnic Public Policy, Research and Advocacy Institute
greenlining.org
@Greenlining

 

Report on Heavy-Duty EVs Highlights Opportunity for Social Equity

The Fourth Revolution
By Rachel Parsons

California’s heavy-duty electric vehicle revolution doesn’t just benefit the environment, it will help social equity efforts as well, according to a report from the Union of Concerned Scientists and The Greenlining Institute.

The authors mined extensive research on pollution, demographics, geography and sociology to compile a list of recommendations for policy makers, EV manufacturers and municipalities to make the growing electric bus and truck industry work for communities of color and low income, which are disproportionately affected by environmental pollution from traditional heavy transport.

“When you look at climate change and when you look at smog, particularly from the heavy duty sector, we know that it discriminates, right?” Joel Espino, one of the authors of the report, said in a recent interview. “We know that it doesn’t impact everyone equally. Local communities of color are hit hardest by these vehicles’ smog.”

Espino serves as environmental equity legal counsel at The Greenlining Institute, an advocacy group for social equity and justice in environmental and health policy.

According to the 2016 report, nearly 90 percent of residents in the state’s most polluted regions are people of color. These communities are live along heavy freight corridors where air pollution ranging from smog-causing nitrogen oxides to visible particulate matter from exhaust is heaviest.

Overall, the transportation sector is California’s largest source of climate-related pollution, and heavy-duty vehicles contribute a “significant” portion of that pollution, especially of nitrogen oxides.

The report stressed that these “localized inequities” create adverse public health outcomes from heart disease to asthma in areas where incomes are 10 percent to 20 percent below local averages.

The social equity punch

The paper’s message: The heavy industrial EV revolution can accomplish two things, creating a positive upward cycle – clean the air in these neighborhoods and give locals good jobs at the same time.

“The litmus test for social justice groups like us is whether the transition to electrified mobility is a just and fair one,” Espino said. “So as those new jobs are being generated we need to stay true to a principle of justice and equity … and make sure that people from low income communities have a chance at a better paid job that has a career trajectory. Those folks are behind the starting line as it is and we need to help those folks catch up to the rest of us.”

The renewable energy sector in California already employs more than half-a-million people and it will continue to grow as state and local regulations push more of the California economy to go green.

It sets forth recommendations for government agencies, electric truck and bus manufacturers and job-training programs. Many of these entities have already implemented impactful social equity reforms.

In December, the California Air Resources Board mandated that all public transportation bus fleets convert to electric vehicles by 2040. And the Port of Los Angeles, one of the nation’s largest shipping ports and a major source of localized pollution, announced in the fall that it has begun the process of electrifying heavy-duty trucks and some shipyard equipment thanks in part to a $41 million grant from the state.

“The fact that they’re getting that much money for clean technologies is a win for environmental justice,” Espino said and added that the lessons learned from that transition can be applied to other agencies like the Port of San Diego, which The Greenlining Institute is working with.

For manufacturers, the paper said, the key is to create an education and job-training pathway in underserved areas from community colleges and other local partners to create a pipeline of talent for green jobs that have starting wages at up to $20 an hour.

And of course, to put manufacturing facilities in these communities. Electric bus makers Proterra and BYD have built factories in City of Industry and Lancaster, California, respectively.

Both cities have populations that are majority people of color. In Lancaster, 23 percent of the population lives in poverty according to U.S. Census data. In City of Industry, that figure is 18 percent.

Proterra did not respond for comment, but according to information provided by BYD, the Lancaster plant employs nearly 750 people, 85 percent of whom are minorities.

The company signed a legally binding agreement with Jobs to Move America, which represents labor and community groups, to ensure that populations typically underrepresented in manufacturing like women, veterans, African Americans and the formerly incarcerated have a chance at a stable job. It also worked with the local community college to create a job training program to prepare skilled workers.

The transit agency that serves Lancaster is the first in North America to transition to all-electric BYD buses, well before the 2040 state deadline. This pattern fits what the report advocates: well-paid manufacturing jobs in regions where the products made improve social equity and the quality of life.

With robust training-to-job pathways in underserved communities, expansion of existing programs to prepare people for green industry jobs, and policy that prioritizes these places, Espino and his co-authors argue, equitable economic development will lift areas that have historically borne the brunt of dirty industry.

Environmental Racism Killing People of Color

Insight News
By Stacy M. Brown

Decades ago, civil rights leader the Rev. Dr. BenjaminChavis Jr., who now serves a president and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, coined the term, “environmental racism.”

It not only proved a true term, but it also linked several eras to a present day that still harkens back to centuries of demeaning and demoralization of Black Americans since the beginning of the transatlantic slave trade 500 years ago. Once the slave trade ended, other oppressive eras ensued – the Antebellum period, the Dred Scott decision, the American Civil War; Jim Crow; racial terrorism, the Civil Rights Movement and, throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, environmental racism, which has kept an immovable wedge between African-Americans and the rest of America.

In noting that environmental justice is an important part of the struggle to improve and maintain a clean and healthful environment – particularly for African-Americans, who have traditionally lived, worked and played closest to the sources of pollution – Chavis said that environmental racism is racial discrimination in environmental policy making and the unequal enforcement of the environmental laws and regulations.

“It is the deliberate targeting of people-of-color communities for toxic waste facilities and the official sanctioning of a life-threatening of poisons and pollutants in people-of-color communities,” he said. “It is also manifested in the history of excluding people of color from leadership in the environmental movement.”

With President Donald Trump castigating the science of global warming, it’s little wonder that today’s environmental policies not only target people of color when it comes to the placement and operation of unhealthy facilities, they also exclude people of color from being a part of the policy making process – even though they are the ones who are usually most directly negatively impacted by environmental injustices.

“The underlying message of environmentally racist tactics and strategies is that certain neighborhoods and certain people matter less than others, and that geographical vulnerability is inevitable, when in fact it is socially constructed to be this way,” said Dr. Deborah Cohan, an associate professor of Sociology in the Department of Social Sciences at the University of South Carolina – Beaufort. “The message is that some groups of people and some neighborhoods are okay to be dumped on and treated as garbage. After all, garbage is trash; it is what we’ve decided we no longer need or have any use for. It’s what we wish to dispose of as we have decided it has no value. The problem with racism and society’s response to it is that we have failed to see this most basic thing; that in order to do that much damage to a community, one must so thoroughly objectify and dehumanize the people in it that they become things that can be discarded and forgotten about. People’s ability to thrive under these hostile conditions is greatly compromised.”

While many celebrated the end of Scott Pruitt’s time as head of the Environmental Protection Agency, others argued that his brief tenure could have a lasting impact on marginalized communities dealing with poor health, water contamination, or air pollution, because of environmental injustice. And, Trump’s policies revealed that the president himself cares little if at all about environmental racism.

Studies have shown that Black and Hispanic children are more likely to develop asthma than their white peers, as are poor children, with research suggesting that higher levels of smog and air pollution in communities of color is a factor. A 2014 study, as reported by VOX, found that people of color live in communities that have more nitrogen dioxide, a pollutant that exacerbates asthma.

The EPA’s own research further supported this. Earlier this year, a paper from the EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment found that when it comes to air pollutants that contribute to issues like heart and lung disease, Blacks are exposed to 1.5 times more of the pollutant than whites, while Hispanics were exposed to about 1.2 times the amount of non-Hispanic whites. People in poverty had 1.3 times the exposure of those not in poverty. Even so, under Pruitt enforcement at the EPA has dropped considerably, with civil rights cases suffering in particular.

“Environmental racism is real. As documented in Richard Rothstein’s 2017 book, ‘The Color of Law,’ extensive federal, state and local government practices designed to create and maintain housing segregation also assured that polluting facilities like industrial plants, refineries, and more were located near Black, Latino and Asian American neighborhoods,” said Bruce Mirken, a spokesman for The Greenlining Institute, a public policy advocacy group in Oakland. “Extensive data show that low-income communities of color still breathe the worst air and have excessive rates of pollution-related illnesses like asthma and other respiratory problems. These problems won’t fix themselves. As we move away from oil, coal and gas to fight climate change, we must consciously bring clean energy resources and investment into communities that were for too long used as toxic dumping grounds.

What’s more, a scan of environmental boards, C-suites, foundations, campaigns and funding, reveals a pronounced lack of diversity within the environmental movement that results in a white progressive world view that still values science and the physical landscape more than people – especially Black and brown people – according to Felicia Davis, founder and CEO of the HBCU Green Fund and sustainability director at Clark Atlanta University.

“These communities are also less affluent and more likely to be located near, and experience, environmental hazards. Katrina and Flint exemplify environmental racism addressed by environmental justice advocates,” said Davis, who’s also the author of “Air of Injustice,” and serves on the boards of Green 2.0, The Chattahoochee River Keepers, and the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation. “There is simply no denying the difference in response to predominantly Black compared to predominantly white communities.”

Bharoocha Shares Post-Graduate Experiences on Self-Defense

The Spectator
By Myrea Mora

Seattle University alumna Haleema Bharoocha returned to campus this past week to share her experiences and advice post-graduation with the Seattle U community.

Bharoocha graduated from Seattle U in 2018 with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology, and she’s currently working as the Technology Equity Fellow at the Greenlining Institute in Oakland, California. She believes strongly in both racial equity in the workplace and self-defense, both of which she returned to Seattle to teach and speak about.

Bharoocha held a presentation at Casey Commons on Jan. 8 that focused on racial equity in the workplace. The community where she works strives to build a nation in which communities of color can thrive. She viewed this workshop as an opportunity to visit Seattle U’s campus and teach the community valuable qualities that she has learned at the institute.

Bharoocha engaged with the audience as she asked the crowd to answer questions and form groups to consider what injustices individuals have experienced in their daily lives at their work spaces. The presentation included an explanation of racial equity, the breakdown of the racial equity framework, and action items to enforce equity in a workspace.

On Jan. 9 she held a second event: a self-defense class where she taught individuals skills to protect themselves in case of an attack. The class was accessible to everyone, no matter their body, as Bharoocha’s goal is to empower all individuals through self-defense and de-escalation. Bharoocha made sure to repeat throughout the workshop that their physical build did not matter, but rather their mentality and willingness to learn proper ways to handle violence did.

“I’ve always been very passionate about gender justice because I’ve seen gender-based violence in my community on unprecedented levels,” Bharoocha said. “I’ve also seen the ways in which different communities are unable to respond because of barriers when it comes to addressing violence.”

Due to her own experiences of studying at a university located in the heart of a large city, Bharoocha felt the need to receive training and pass along ways to defend oneself. Additionally, she stressed the importance of de-escalating any situation that may occur so that those targeted could not be convicted for their defense.

“I’ve experienced it myself as a woman-identifying person, and it’s really frustrating because there’s so much disempowerment and lack of agency, and also being upset that I wanted to do something and couldn’t,” Bharoocha said.

Self-defense skills are a useful resource for other students who feel unsafe and paranoid when walking alone. Bharoocha was not okay with feeling helplessness if a violent act were to be acted upon her. As a result, she began training to familiarize herself with self-defense tactics so that the knowledge she retained from the classes would give her a better chance of reacting in the best way possible against acts of violence.

Bharoocha also touched on the fact that pepper spray is not allowed on campus and stressed that this is another reason for students to learn defensive strategies because these weapons can be used against oneself and are not the most efficient way to escape an attack.

Sydney Allen, another Seattle U alumna, attended the event to support Bharoocha and was also no stranger to the stress that individuals experience when walking alone in the city, especially at night.

“I am a young woman living in the city and all I have to my name is a short fuse and a can of pepper spray,” Allen said. “I don’t want people to mess with me and I want to have the tools to demonstrate that.”

The class incorporated not only physical skills that are beneficial to individuals, but also common knowledge that should be known when addressing self-defense. The training began and ended with an oral reflection, touching on the meaning of consent, why everyone chose to attend, and how the class benefited them.

Elizabeth Ayers, a fourth-year English literature student, took this opportunity to attend the self-defense class, as it was fully accessible to all students and individuals in the Seattle U community.

“I learned a lot of moves I can do in my wheelchair and a lot of advantages that I have with driving a 350-pound wheelchair and the fact that people don’t expect a lot from me,” Ayers said. “It felt very welcoming to know that my disability wasn’t something that had to be accommodated.”

The environment was comforting and open for everyone to express their feelings and participate fully with the activities and moves being taught. Ayers said that Bharoocha made them feel comfortable—one of Bharoocha’s many goals in the workshop was to ensure that everyone has the means to protect themselves and feel confident about responding to any violent scenarios.

“Empowered,” “confident,” and “able” were all mentioned in reflection when Bharoocha asked individuals to describe how they felt at the conclusion of the class. Bharoocha made sure the students who attended the class left with impactful words to take into their daily lives.

“Do not be paranoid, be present,” Bharoocha said.

How Square Lease Could Accelerate Big Tech’s Presence in Oakland

San Francisco Business Times
By Fiona Kelliher

After the record-breaking lease of Uptown Station by financial services company Square, members of the Oakland office industry are awaiting the next big company to expand to the East Bay city from pricey San Francisco…

For the city of Oakland, Square’s lease – and the potential influx of more office tenants – could bring community benefits like workforce development and philanthropic donations. But it also heightens long-held fears about gentrification already sweeping through the city’s neighborhoods.

As a new major employer moving into Oakland, Square should make an effort to integrate into the local community, said Orson Aguilar, who leads the Greenlining Institute, an Oakland nonprofit focused on social and economic equity. That could mean hiring as many Oakland residents as possible, setting up internships and apprenticeship programs specifically geared toward local students and seeking out Oakland-based suppliers for their office needs.

Read the full story (paywalled) here.

California’s Latino Physician Crisis: Policy Briefing in Oakland Jan. 15

Latinos Are 40% of State’s Population but Grossly Underrepresented among Doctors  

Contact: Bruce Mirken, Greenlining Institute Media Relations Director, 510-926-4022; 415-846-7758 (cell)

OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA – While Latinos represent California’s largest ethnic group at nearly 40 percent of the population, they comprise just 11.6 percent of graduating physicians across California’s medical schools. In a state where nearly 44 percent speak a language other than English at home, California remains critically short of physicians prepared to address the needs of patients whose English is limited.

On Jan. 15, The Greenlining Institute will join with the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California and UCLA’s Latino Policy & Politics Initiative to host a policy briefing and networking reception focusing on this growing crisis, the reforms necessary to solve it, and potential opportunities in working with California’s new governor and state legislature to find policy solutions to these disparities.

Space is limited, so those wishing to attend should register right away. Media wishing to attend are asked to RSVP to Bruce Mirken at brucem@greenlining.org.

WHAT: Policy briefing and reception, California’s Latino Physician Crisis

WHO: Scheduled speakers include:

  • Orson Aguilar, President, The Greenlining Institute
  • Sonja Diaz, Executive Director,  UCLA Latino Policy & Politics Initiative
  • Dr. Jeffrey Reynoso, Executive Director, Latino Coalition for a Healthy California
  • Dr. Arturo Vargas Bustamante, Associate Professor, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health
  • Carmela Castellano-Garcia, President and Chief Executive Officer, California Primary Care Association
  • Berenice Núñez Constant, Vice President, Government Relations, AltaMed Health Services Corporati

WHERE: The Greenlining Institute, 360 14th Street, first floor, Oakland, California

WHEN: Tuesday, Jan. 15, 4:30-6:30 p.m. Light refreshments and a no-host bar will be available at the beginning of the event.

###

THE GREENLINING INSTITUTE
A Multi-Ethnic Public Policy, Research and Advocacy Institute
greenlining.org

@Greenlining

House Diversity Panel a Doubled-Edged Sword for Banks

American Banker
By Neil Haggerty

A new House subcommittee planned by Democrats to focus on diversity in banking and financial inclusion is getting high marks not just from public interest groups but also industry groups that say it could foster regulatory reforms needed to reach more customers.

The exact details of the new panel, which was proposed by House Financial Services Committee Chair Maxine Waters, D-Calif., are still somewhat unclear, but observers expect the subcommittee will address diversity issues among bank and regulator leadership, fair lending and reducing other forms of discrimination, and expanding financial services access to communities.

A key focus is expected to be the dearth of women and minority representation on bank boards. But industry representatives hope also to draw attention to regulatory barriers that they say impedes financial institutions from catering to customers in lower-income and rural areas.

“We are all for getting consumers into the banking sector and providing financial services at a reasonable price and preventing them from getting tripped up by other nonbank sources,” said Paul Merski, group executive vice president for congressional relations and strategy at the Independent Community Bankers of America. “A lot of the regulations designed to help the consumer actually boxed the consumer out of access to products and services.”

The new Financial Services subcommittee – included in a package of rule changes unveiled by Democratic leadership and passed by the full House last week – will likely enable Democrats to raise the alarm bell about the lack of diversity in the banking industry.

“We think that there is a major disparity in” in the lack of “people of color at the top of these banks,” said Rawan Elhalaby, the Economic Equity program manager at the Greenlining Institute. She added that “requiring that the banks disclose who is on their boards and the diversity of their workforce … is important and will influence the banks to make better decisions about their hiring.”

That could pose an uncomfortable situation for specific institutions that the panel chooses to spotlight. Democrats on the full House committee have long pushed for more diversity both at the executive and board levels of corporations and at regulatory agencies, including the Federal Reserve Board and the Fed’s regional banks.

“The committee is going to draw a lot of public attention to organizations that it doesn’t believe are taking appropriate steps to diversify their leadership,” said Justin Schardin, a fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

Waters has said she intends to expose and eliminate discrimination in financial services.

“We believe that not only are we going to be able to define very clearly for everybody where there is discrimination but also have recommendations and try to work with all of the entities that are involved to eliminate it,” she said in a statement to Vox.

The new subcommittee has not been officially formed, but Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, has already put her name in the running to chair it.

“Still today, too many Americans have been left behind as our economy recovered from the 2008 Financial Crisis, especially communities of color,” Beatty said in a statement to American Banker. “Congress must do more to ensure ALL Americans have a voice, seat at the table, and equal opportunity at achieving the American Dream.”

Even if the new subcommittee fails to pass legislation, it will likely put pressure on banks to ensure they have systems in place that prevent discrimination.

“If I were a lobbyist or if I were a corporation, you want to pay a lot of attention to this because you want to avoid being singled out by this,” said Ed Mills, a policy analyst at Raymond James. “There is going to be a lot of work behind trying to get your company not to testify before this subcommittee. A lot of times, the most effective lobbying tool is shame.”

The panel could present an opportunity for both consumer advocates and reg relief champions to tout proposals aimed at improving the industry’s approach to diversity and financial inclusion.

Policy areas that could be of focus include reforming the Community Reinvestment Act, ensuring that new fintech products are not discriminatory and instituting possible reforms to the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act.

While the subcommittee could be an outlet for Democrats to criticize discriminatory policies, it could also be an outlet to push for further regulatory relief to expand product access.

For example, just as consumer groups want the CRA reform effort to result in strict oversight of banks to ensure they are meeting their community obligations, banks have urged policymakers to look at areas where they can earn CRA credit where they currently do not.

“We hear from our bankers that they are doing all kinds of services in their communities because it is part of their business model but a lot of it may or may not count for CRA credit,” Merski said.

The subcommittee could also present an opportunity for bankers to highlight where the industry’s diversity initiatives are succeeding.

“The banking industry strives for a diverse and inclusive workforce and is proud of the progress we have made and the work already being done in communities across the country,” Richard Hunt, president and chief executive of the Consumer Bankers Association.

Lauren Saunders, the associate director of the National Consumer Law Center, said the development of fintech products is also an area for stakeholders to argue two sides: how digital innovation can expand product access but also how certain business models have the potential to discriminate.

“I do expect fintech to be a topic of conversation,” Saunders said. “There are definitely positive assets to fintech and promises of increasing inclusion … but you could have issues with disparate impact. ” Just because a computer does it, doesn’t mean they’re not discriminating. I would hope that this new committee would shine a light on those black boxes.”

She said she hopes that the new subcommittee will focus on strict enforcement of anti-discrimination laws.

“Regulators who are in charge of enforcing our fair-lending laws need to be doing their job. Anyone who thinks there’s not discrimination out there anymore either is buried in a hole or doesn’t care,” Saunders said. “There’s both human discrimination and I think there’s a lot of potential for discrimination in automated approaches as well.”

Other observers say Trump-appointed regulators could also draw scrutiny from the subcommittee over whether they are helping or hindering diversity efforts in the industry.

Recent appointees have already felt heat from Democrats for their statements or policies. Shortly after taking office, Comptroller of the Currency Joseph Otting alarmed lawmakersduring a hearingwhen he said he has “never personally observed” discrimination in banking “but many of my friends from the inner city across America will tell me that it is evident today.”

Democrats also criticized steps by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, under former acting Director Mick Mulvaney, to revamp its approach to fair-lending enforcement. The bureau has also been embroiled in controversy overracially charged commentsthat the political appointee overseeing fair-lending policy made in a blog 14 years ago.

“The very first step for this committee is going to be oversight and investigations,” said Ed Mierzwinski, senior director of the federal consumer program at U.S. PIRG.

Transit for All?

From Politico’s California Pro Preview

TRANSIT FOR ALL? Speaking of buses, should California eliminate fares for public transit?

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) suggested as much in a Twitter thread that turned into a makeshift bill-crafting session Thursday.

Gonzalez said she “just spoke with the Gov-elect about my desire to use cap and trade funds to make public transit free for all riders under 25. (A pilot program to start.) He didn’t say yes, but he didn’t say no either.”

In response to a suggestion that those with means should still pay, she added: “I actually think it should be free, especially for younger folks. We need to grow transit riders, and transit should serve our school aged kids … a generation of change is necessary to reduce tailpipe emissions & GHG.”

Alvaro S. Sanchez of the Greenlining Institute environmental equity team said his group has “the same idea and would love to help!” Carter Rubin, mobility and climate advocate with the Natural Resources Defense Council, added that he’s “happy to help.”

The cap-and-trade program has generated about $9.4 billion so far, which has been spent on a panoply of programs including rail upgrades, low-emission freight and buses, transit-adjacent housing and methane capture at dairies. Roughly a quarter of the proceeds are reserved for the state’s high-speed rail project, and another 35 percent are reserved for disadvantaged and low-income communities.

New Energy Projects to Bring Clean Indoor Air to Rural CA Homes

11 San Joaquin Valley Communities Dependent on Wood or Propane for Heat Get Urgently Needed Help

Contact: Bruce Mirken, Greenlining Institute Media Relations Director, 510-926-4022; 415-846-7758 (cell)
Valerie Gorospe, Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment, 661-303-1032, vgorospe@crpe-ej.org

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – Today the California Public Utilities Commission approved a series of pilot projects to bring long-overdue relief to rural communities lacking natural gas service, providing residents with cleaner and healthier alternatives for heating and cooking, as well as home weatherization. The communities affected, among the lowest income in California and whose residents are overwhelmingly people of color, were historically redlined out of natural gas service.

“The Commission is taking an incredible step today by investing in San Joaquin Valley communities that have been unfairly excluded from California’s clean energy innovation,” said Greenlining Institute Energy Equity Legal Counsel Madeline Stano. “We are grateful for Commissioner Martha Guzman Aceves’s leadership and commitment to working in partnership with San Joaquin Valley residents.”

A group of San Joaquin Valley based organizations – the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment, Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability and Self-Help Enterprises, working closely with The Greenlining Institute – successfully advocated for extensive community-led design of the pilot programs.

Overall, 1,891 households in Allensworth, Alpaugh, Cantua Creek, Ducor, Fairmead, Lanare, Le Grand, La Vina, Seville, California City and West Goshen will receive either new natural gas service or no-cost electric cooking appliances and heating, along with home weatherization and energy efficiency upgrades. In combination, these upgrades will provide cleaner indoor air and lowered energy bills.

“Some of the poorest communities in the state are forced to pay the highest energy cost, and in addition many are facing other challenges like contaminated drinking water and bad air quality,” said Abigail Solis, Senior Community Development specialist for Self-Help Enterprises. “These pilot projects will not only directly benefit these 11 communities, they will also provide the basis for future implementation of affordable and clean energy options for the remaining 170 San Joaquin Valley communities that either partially or completely lack access to natural gas.”

All of the pilot programs include local hiring and job training as well as energy bill financial protections and renter protections for tenants in buildings receiving upgrades. The projects will also support residents in accessing additional state programs to further reduce their energy bills, like the Community Solar Green Tariff and California Alternative Rates for Energy (CARE) programs.

“Today, the CPUC took a step toward addressing the historic neglect that hinders health and opportunity in disadvantaged communities by increasing access to affordable energy,” said Leslie Martinez, policy advocate with Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, one of the organizations that supported residents in pursuit of these projects. “This victory builds on years of advocacy by community leaders and their determination to contribute to — and share in — the multiple environmental benefits of confronting climate change.”

“Today’s decision sets a roadmap for affordable and clean energy in other disadvantaged communities.  It also addresses decades of inequitable distribution of resources through a process that has been and will continue to be community driven,” said Roger Lin, attorney with the UC Berkeley Environmental Law Clinic. “We thank Commissioner Guzman Aceves and her staff.”

###

THE GREENLINING INSTITUTE
A Multi-Ethnic Public Policy, Research and Advocacy Institute
greenlining.org
@Greenlining