Capitol Weekly
by Vien Truong

Now that oil industry fear-mongering over gasoline prices has turned out to be completely phony, it’s time to take a serious look at the real impact of California’s climate change and clean energy policies on communities around our state.

Simply put, the news is good and getting better.  These successes and stories haven’t been widely shared, however, and we’re hoping to change that.

Meet Denny Sysaknoi, a 21-year-old who lives in Fresno, where the county’s unemployment rate is 9.5 percent, more than two points above the state average.

Denny shared with us that he “grew up with no parents” and in a corner of town that was “violent, and there were always shootings around.” His brother, a gang member, has been in prison in Oklahoma since age 15. Denny had his own brush with the law at 16, when he was arrested for possessing an unregistered gun. He got kicked out of school. He knows that his life could have gone downhill from there.

It didn’t. A vocational training program led him to nonprofit GRID Alternatives, which manages California’s Single Family Affordable Solar Homes program (SASH), installing free or low-cost solar for low-income families who couldn’t otherwise afford it, while providing hands-on solar training for people like Denny. An internship with GRID eventually led to a position as a crew leader with Lifestyle Solar, a Central Valley solar installer.

Thanks to this program, Denny has a promising career to support his family.  And thanks to AB 32 (Nunez/Pavley) and SB 535 (de León), SASH and similar programs are now getting a $75 million boost in the current fiscal year.

These programs will also be bringing more help for families like Leticia and Gerardo Ramirez of Madera. The Ramirezes are one of over two dozen low-income families in Madera who have received free or low cost solar power thanks to SASH. Gerardo drives a tractor in a nearby vineyard, and supporting four kids is a struggle. With solar, the Ramirezes annual cost for electricity will be about what most Californians pay every month. That, says Gerardo, “is going to help us save energy as well as money so we can use it to do things that we could not do before financially.”

You can read more about Denny Sysaknoi and the Ramirez family at UpLiftCA.org.  We’ll be adding additional stories in the coming months. The site also features helpful, practical information for consumers and small business owners.

Families like these are benefitting because of the work of visionary legislators like Kevin De León (D-Los Angeles), Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) and Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills). They have worked tirelessly to make sure our climate policies bring us two major benefits for the price of one: reducing fossil fuel use and cleaning our air while also bringing jobs, investments and opportunities to communities like Madera, where poverty and pollution have lived side by side for far too long. Thanks to their work, California is putting clean power in the hands of families who could never afford it otherwise, replacing dirty gas and diesel vehicles with clean, affordable forms of transportation for both freight and people, building affordable housing near mass transit, helping families and small business owners make their homes and businesses more energy efficient, and boosting the economies of our most struggling communities.

And these benefits will continue to grow. Governor Brown’s budget proposal continues to channel meaningful investments into programs that will help low income consumers weatherize their homes, get to work or school without fouling the air, and all the while creating more jobs for people like Denny and hard-hit communities like Madera. While there will and should be energetic debate and discussion about the budget – we think, for example, there may turn out to be room for even greater investments than the governor has proposed – the trajectory is clearly positive.

California climate policies have already improved lives by making polluters pay for the damage they cause and putting those dollars to work in the communities that need it most. Those benefits will only grow as more funds hit the ground, at least if we can hold back Big Oil’s continuing efforts to gut AB 32. Advocates and policymakers alike need to put some energy into getting the good news out into our communities. We invite you to use UpLiftCA.org as one tool to help spread the word.

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