Can California Protect Frontline Communities From Climate Change?

By Sona Mohnot

Poor people will be hit hardest by the impacts of climate change.

In the last five years, San Jose has seen severe drought followed by the worst floods in a century, and to top it off, record-breaking temperatures. These extreme weather events are not unique to the Bay Area, but are happening all around California as well as the U.S. and the world. Climate change makes them more common and more severe.

Although California is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it won’t stop global warming. We can slow down extreme weather events like those in San Jose, but communities will continue to feel the impacts of climate change no matter how much we curb emissions.

The weather conditions brought on by climate change—like flooding, heatwaves and wildfires—can affect everyday life for people. Californians face the increasing likelihood of power outages, displacement, increased costs for electricity and food, contaminated drinking water, worsened air pollution and increased asthma rates.

While climate change impacts will affect everyone, poor communities and communities of color will be hit hardest. These frontline communities already spend as much as 25 percent of their entire income on just food, electricity and water, which is much more than most Americans. They face a greater risk of heat-related illness and death.

And while air conditioning and transportation could alleviate extreme heat impacts, many people of color and low-income residents lack access to air conditioning or cars to escape hot days. Often located in areas with severe air pollution, these communities will also breathe even dirtier air as smog increases due to climate change.

So what is California doing to ensure frontline communities are prepared to handle the impacts of climate change and continue to thrive?

The state has developed a climate adaptation strategy called the Safeguarding California Plan. The plan covers 10 sectors, including energy, transportation, public health, water and forests. For each sector, the plan discusses what the state is currently doing to address climate adaptation, what must be done, and how the state plans to accomplish those goals. The plan covers a lot of ground, but focuses heavily on the vulnerability of built infrastructure (e.g. roads, highways and energy facilities) and natural systems like wetlands, forests and agricultural lands.

The plan does little to prioritize community vulnerability. For instance, are cooling centers available on hot days for communities lacking access to air conditioning? Are emergency evacuation routes available for people without vehicles? What is the emergency response system to warn people of extreme weather events in rural or hard-to-reach communities? What measures are in place to prevent displacement?

Recognizing the need to address these issues, the Resources Legacy Fund brought together several environmental justice, public health and climate equity organizations, including Greenlining, to create a Climate Justice Working Group. The working group provided recommendations to the state as it updated the Safeguarding California Plan earlier this year. We also just released a set of climate justice principles and recommendations that go beyond “Safeguarding California.” We believe the state should include the recommendations in all climate adaptation policies it develops.

Here’s an overview:

  • The state should prioritize the protection of essential facilities that provide health care, food, and emergency shelter; bring economic opportunities into frontline communities and avoid negative consequences such as displacement.

  • The state should conduct community vulnerability assessments to identify what make a community vulnerable. The assessments can inform strategies to build community resilience.

  • Importantly, the state should meet with and actively engage frontline communities to include their voice in all climate adaptation plans.

  • The state should identify at least $1 billion by 2020 and $10 billion by 2025 to accomplish climate resilience goals.

To hear what communities have to say about climate change, Resources Legacy Fund and EMC Research conducted a survey of 800 California voters of color. Sixty-one percent of these voters say climate change poses a major threat to low-income communities, and 85% want their elected officials to develop stronger policies to help their community prepare for the impacts of climate change.

The recently passed extension of California’s cap-and-trade program designates climate adaptation as a priority that must get funding from cap-and-trade revenue. Since climate adaption will get funding, this is an opportune time for the state to think about incorporating the Climate Justice Working Group’s recommendations into its policies—especially since voters of color want to see policies that address community vulnerability.

Officials must listen to the voices of the communities hit first and worst, and make sure that we build up the resiliency of those communities and don’t accidentally increase poverty and displacement.

Can We Talk? Big Business and the Need for Transparency

The Huffington Post
By Preeti Vissa

Knowledge, as they say, is power. But when information is a one-way street, even the smartest minds have trouble making progress.

I was reminded of this the other day when I heard of the challenges faced by two members of The Greenlining Institute’s Leadership Academy, which trains young people of color in policy and advocacy. Two young people in our Summer Associate program have been finding that getting information from corporate America can be much harder than figuring out what to do with the information once you get it.

Jubek Yongo-Bure has been looking – or at least trying to look – at the diversity efforts of Silicon Valley tech companies. Many of these firms refused to release any meaningful information on the diversity of their staff and management until last year, when a number of major firms like Google acknowledged how few of their employees – particularly in high-level positions — were women, Latino or African American.

Back then a number of execs pledged greater efforts at diversity, so we asked Jubek to look into what they were actually doing. As an organization with some experience promoting diversity in a variety of settings, we thought a dialogue with major companies wrestling with these issues could be valuable for all. So Jubek wrote to 11 prominent companies working in various aspects of the tech world.

Unfortunately, Jubek has run into a wall of silence from most companies, getting substantive responses from only three. From the others, including Google, she mainly got polite brush-offs. One of those companies did host the whole group of Summer Associates at a sort of meet-and-greet, but when asked about what they’re doing to recruit diverse candidates, a company rep said, “They should just apply.” No one was willing to engage about what, if anything, they were actually doing to make diverse applicants believe they would be welcomed and that applying wouldn’t be a waste of time.

Meanwhile, Kerry Sakimoto has been looking into community benefit practices of nonprofit hospitals in California’s San Joaquin Valley. Nonprofit hospitals include some of America’s largest hospital systems, companies that would easily make the Fortune 500 if they were organized as for-profit businesses. These hospitals make a bargain with the public: In exchange for the billions of dollars in tax breaks they get each year by being allowed to organize as nonprofits, they’re supposed to provide “community benefit” by providing care for the poor and uninsured and helping communities stay healthy.

Unfortunately, in the real world it’s not always clear where those community benefit dollars go and what good they do – in other words, whether these hospitals are keeping their half of the bargain. Last year, for example, our health team looked at San Francisco hospitals and found that the available information raised more questions than it answered.

Kerry looked at seven major nonprofit hospitals serving the Valley – a major agricultural region plagued by high levels of poverty, the sort of region where nonprofit hospitals could play a critical role in promoting community health. For two of the seven, not enough information was available to determine how much of the hospital’s income was spent on community benefit. For others, critical pieces of the puzzle were missing – for example, how much spending was directed at the broad community (e.g. antismoking campaigns) and how much, if any, was directed specifically toward addressing the needs of vulnerable populations, such as the poor, elderly, disabled, communities of color and those who speak little English.

When Kerry followed up, a few hospitals filled in some missing details while others just gave him the runaround. Statewide, the hospital industry has fought tooth and nail against legislation to improve transparency and promote community involvement in the community benefit activities that are supposed to earn these institutions their enormous tax breaks.

These summer projects are supposed to be learning experiences, and I have no doubt that both Kerry and Jubek did learn. But I can’t help but feel a bit sad that some of what they learned is how large corporations that play hugely important roles in our communities are happy to put out generalities about their good corporate citizenship, but put up walls when asked for specifics.

Cap-and-Trade Funds to Struggling Communities

San Francisco Chronicle
by: Vien Truong and Bruce Mirken

California’s cap-and-trade system became a reality Wednesday with the state’s first auction of carbon permits. Thanks to legislation signed in September by Gov. Jerry Brown, this event brings a real promise of help for our state’s most polluted and economically struggling communities.

The story begins in 2006, when lawmakers passed AB32, the Global Warming Solutions Act, which requires California to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. To achieve this, the California Air Resources Board established a cap-and-trade program, which caps the amount of air pollution that a power plant or industrial polluter can produce, and requires these facilities to purchase credits to exceed the pollution cap. This program is projected to bring in $1 billion in state revenue in the first year.

In a state that is struggling economically and where too many of our citizens still breathe dirty air, where the money goes matters.

That’s why a broad coalition – business associations, public health organizations, labor, transportation and environmental groups, ethnic and immigrant organizations, economic-justice, housing and faith-based organizations – came together behind a simple idea to put a meaningful chunk of the money from the carbon auction into low-income communities that typically are hit first and worst by pollution.

This commitment resulted in two bills signed into law Sept. 30 by the governor: SB535, introduced by Sen. Kevin De León, D-Los Angeles, and AB1532, authored by Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, D-Los Angeles.

In essence, AB1532 guides how the carbon auction funds will flow, and SB535 determines where a portion of the funds will go.

Pérez’s bill creates a public process that structures how the money should be allocated, with parameters on what green sectors to invest in and guidance on the distribution process, ensuring fairness and transparency. De León’s bill ensures that at least 25 percent of cap-and-trade funds benefit “disadvantaged communities,” with at least 10 percent invested directly in those areas.

Officials will identify disadvantaged communities based on geographic, socioeconomic, public health and environmental criteria. These will include factors such as heavy pollution problems and large numbers of people with low incomes, high unemployment rates and low levels of home ownership or educational attainment.

These laws are good for our state in two ways. First, they will attract additional clean energy investments to California by providing transparency, longevity and certainty in California’s climate policy. Venture capital for clean energy has been flowing into California in record amounts since AB32 was signed. This will help maintain that momentum.

Second, the laws will make sure that a significant portion of the money will go to communities that most urgently need clean air and good jobs. Investment in these areas will improve California’s economy, support local businesses, create good-paying jobs and help millions of Californians toward a better life.

Vien Truong is green assets director and Bruce Mirken is media relations coordinator at the Greenlining Institute,

Cap-and-Trade Rules: Hold the Applause

California Progress Report

By Orson Aguilar and C.C. Song

There has been a lot of cheering over the Dec. 16 decision by the California Air Resources Board to adopt rules setting up the nation’s first cap-and-trade system for reducing carbon emissions. While the regulations represent an important first step and contain several positive elements, their flaws are serious and shouldn’t be ignored.

As the regulations now stand, their ultimate result could be a massive giveaway to the state’s biggest polluters.  Instead of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the proposed rules could result in billions of dollars in windfall profits to polluting industries at the expense of California’s most vulnerable communities.

A successful cap-and-trade program relies on a strategic allocation of allowances. In that context, it is hard to grasp the strategic value of CARB’s decision to give away the overwhelming majority of carbon allowances for free to big polluters.

Continue reading “Cap-and-Trade Rules: Hold the Applause”

Central Valley Can Clean Up with SB 535

The Sacramento Bee
by Vien Truong

Re “Central Valley’s dire dirty air distinction” (Editorials, May 1):

Your editorial brought to light an obvious truth: the Central Valley bears the brunt of air pollution from transportation and nearby industries, and low-income communities and people of color are among those most impacted by asthma, heart attacks, and other harmful effects. California’s cap-and-trade program is an opportunity to turn the tide. State Sen. Kevin de Leon has been on the cutting edge of solutions to ensure the most disadvantaged communities can benefit from AB 32, California’s signature clean air and energy law. Senate Bill 535, authored by de Leon and signed into law in 2012, requires that a percentage of cap-and-trade proceeds serves and are invested in these communities. For those already on the front lines of the fight against air pollution in the Central Valley, SB 535 will be a lifesaver.

CFPB’s Race Controversy: An Opportunity for Progress

American Banker
by Orson Aguilar

On March 6, American Banker published a controversial piece on Consumer Financial Protection Bureau internal data pointing to racial disparities in employee performance evaluations and satisfaction surveys. The leaked data reportedly found people of color at the CFPB are less likely to receive high rankings on employee performance evaluations.

The findings give real cause for concern, but they also present an historic opportunity for the whole financial services sector – not just CFPB and other federal regulatory agencies – to have a broad, healthy dialogue about the role of people of color in the financial sector and the need for diversity initiatives that work in the real world.

Because of this leaked data, we’re already seeing diversity enter into mainstream conversation and draw in some unlikely participants. GOP leaders like House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling – who has not previously made diversity a primary focal point – are now starting to ask questions about these issues.

Of course, this is Washington and motives aren’t always pure. Some of the sudden interest is coming from members of Congress who never wanted a strong watchdog protecting financial consumers and who have now found a convenient weapon with which to attack an agency they never much liked.

No matter. The discussion that’s been sparked can be productive. While sometimes painful,bringing these issues to light is a good thing. Racial disparities have long existed throughout the entire financial services sector. At The Greenlining Institute, we have been working on this exact issue for years, and have put a lot of thought into how organizations can infuse equity into their diversity policies and practices. We’ve created resources like the Racial Equity Framework to help agencies think proactively and creatively about race and ethnicity in order to produce equitable outcomes and prevent the sort of disparities just reported.

It’s not enough to think just in terms of compliance with antidiscrimination laws and reaction to problems. The financial services sector must start thinking proactively about diversity – what it means in the real world and how it can strengthen both banks and the agencies that regulate them.

Luckily, in the Dodd-Frank Act, Congress wisely created Offices of Minority and Women Inclusion for this specific purpose. The OMWIs, housed in the nation’s most powerful financial regulatory agencies, including the CFPB, are the natural agents to carry out this vision.

Financial regulatory agencies and Congress should take the following steps right away:

  1. All agencies should conduct racial/ethnic impact studies of their employees, including: performance, satisfaction, retention, promotion, pay and placement within the agency. Transparency and granular reporting can identify agency blind spots to understanding issues within their workforce, and allow strategic planning to rectify any disparities.
  2. Agency heads must lead the way in making diversity a priority. What gets measured gets done. When leaders care about diversity, it goes from being a “fringe topic” to one that all employees will buy into, becoming part of the organizational culture. Creating a culture of diversity and inclusion requires clear, consistent and visible commitment from agency leadership. Without this commitment, staffers have less of an incentive to devote the extra time and resources necessary to making the workforce culture more inclusive. Leadership commitment also ensures that diversity policies are incorporated into all divisions and that these policies will actually be effective and enforced.
  3. The OMWIs must lead the charge for diversity and inclusion, and Congress must support them. Every year the OMWIs release annual reports to Congress on the nature of diversity within the financial sector, but we haven’t seen much interest from Congress until now. In the past, Greenlining has called for key stakeholders to more substantively support the OMWIs and engage when they report to Congress. If Congress cares, the OMWIs will be better resourced to carry out their mission and promote inclusion for all.
  4. Congress should establish a Joint Committee on Diversity. The Senate Banking Committee, House Financial Services Committee and members of the tri-ethnic caucuses should create a joint committee on diversity to track and hold financial agencies and companies accountable to workforce and supplier diversity standards.

Our whole economy will be stronger if the financial industry and the agencies that regulate it reflect the full strength and diversity of American society. Everyone involved has just been handed an historic opportunity to get it done. We look forward to working with the CFPB leadership and all other financial regulatory agencies to ensure that this happens.

Changing LifeLine Could Hurt Low-Income Consumers

Capitol Weekly
By Stephanie Chen | 07/31/13 12:00 AM PST

Assemblymember Steven Bradford claims that AB 1407 is needed to improve California’s LifeLine program (“PUC’s dithering hurts those who depend on basic phone service,” Capitol Weekly, July 29). According to Mr. Bradford, the California Public Utilities Commission has taken too long to revise the program, and AB 1407 will give LifeLine customers more choices while preserving existing consumer protections.

It’s true that the program needs updating. It was designed when there was only one way to make a phone call, and that was over the copper network from a phone in your home or office. Things have changed.  VoIP and wireless are the new basic communications, and LifeLine needs to evolve with technology.  BUT – and this is the heart of the issue – LifeLine still needs to fulfill its primary purpose, which is to make phone service affordable.  AB 1407 doesn’t do that. AB 1407 undermines LifeLine’s essential guarantee of affordable phone service, effectively replacing that guarantee with a coupon.

Mr. Bradford complains that the CPUC has failed to act on LifeLine for over seven years. However, part of this delay occurred during the tenure of CPUC Commissioner Rachelle Chong, a regulator who openly disavowed regulation and removed many consumer protections from telephone service in California. Once Ms. Chong’s term ended, the Commission began work on revising LifeLine, but postponed doing so at the request of AT&T and Verizon.

Mr. Bradford introduced AB 1407 only after the CPUC had already begun to revise the LifeLine program. The CPUC’s proceeding has collected input from carriers, consumer groups, civil rights organizations, and LifeLine customers themselves. All of these groups, including AT&T and Verizon, expressed different opinions about how the Commission should revise LifeLine. The Commission is doing just what it’s supposed to do: consider all interests before issuing new rules.

It appears that AT&T and Verizon, no longer able to delay at the CPUC, are worried that the CPUC may draft rules that are not exactly the revisions the telecom giants want. So they support AB 1407, which is a carbon copy of AT&T and Verizon’s filings at the CPUC.

Under the bill, carriers can pick and choose where they offer LifeLine service. They can offer whatever service quality they choose. They don’t have to provide customers with free access to 1-800 numbers, 911, or customer service. They can offer customers as small a number of minutes as the carrier wants—typically, 8 minutes a day, but potentially even fewer.

Most disturbingly, carriers can set the price for LifeLine as high as they want, because AB 1407 eliminates LifeLine as a service and transforms it into a subsidy. Instead of paying a set, low-cost rate for phone service, subscribers will get a coupon giving them $11.85 off their bill every month.

Assemblymember Bradford states that if LifeLine customers are unhappy with this overpriced, unregulated, low-quality service, they can still choose wireline LifeLine—the very service Mr. Bradford claims that LifeLine customers don’t want. So AB 1407 forces customers to choose between service they don’t want and service they can’t afford.

Actually, it’s worse than that. Traditional wireline phone service is steadily being replaced by VoIP networks, so the choice Bradford offers is a mirage that will soon disappear.

Mr. Bradford rightly says, “[n]o Californian with limited financial resources should be locked out of the LifeLine program.” AB 1407does not solve that problem.  AB 1407 does not ensure that phone service will be available to low-income consumers. AB 1407 does not ensure that phone service will be affordable. The only thing that AB 1407 ensures is that telephone users will pay into a system with no hope of actually achieving its goal of making phone service affordable for low-income people.

Assemblymember Bradford’s stated goals are admirable.  His purported solution, however, is not.

Ed’s Note: Stephanie Chen is Energy and Telecommunications Policy Director at The Greenlining Institute,

Civil Rights, 1964 and What We’ve Lost

The Huffington Post
by Preeti Vissa

According to Gallup, 15 percent of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing – just slightly better than the approval rating Gallup reported a few years ago for polygamy. Once upon a time, Americans actually respected our representatives in Washington, and an anniversary this month helps explain why.

While much attention will mark the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 on July 2, we shouldn’t forget a key turning point that paved the way for the law’s enactment that happened the month before, on June 10, 1964.

That’s the day supporters of the Civil Rights Act broke a Senate filibuster led by southern Democrats, who were fighting to the end to save segregation. How that happened – and what’s happened in the Senate since – tells a lot about where we’ve been and where we’re going. And much of what it tells us is discouraging.

Filibusters were a much different animal in 1964 than they are today. Instead of a nearly-routine effort by one party to block the actions of a president from another party, filibusters were only used for big, important issues. In part, that’s because to maintain a filibuster, its supporters had to actually stand up and hold the floor. Filibusterers had to literally keep talking as long as they wanted to block a vote.

As of June 10, 1964, the filibuster of the Civil Rights Act had tied up the Senate for 60 days. That’s how long it took for Senate Democratic Whip Hubert Humphrey, who was managing the bill, to put together the 67 votes needed to overcome a filibuster.

It took two thirds of the Senate back then to overcome a filibuster. The threshold was later reduced to 60 votes, but that hasn’t stopped filibusters from becoming as common as dirt in the last decade or so.

The vote to end the filibuster was bipartisan, with Republicans supplying the crucial votes. With southern Democrats fighting civil rights to the end, the bill couldn’t have passed without substantial GOP support. Republican leader Sen. Everett Dirksen of Illinois – a stately old gentleman who could be fiery when the occasion called for it — spoke passionately for the bill. “Stronger than all the armies is an idea whose time has come,” Dirksen said. “The time has come for equality of opportunity in sharing in government, in education, and in employment. It will not be stayed or denied. It is here!”

In a dramatic moment, the deciding vote was cast by California Sen. Clair Engle, desperately ill with a brain tumor and no longer able to speak. The only way he could signal his vote was to point to his eye to signify “aye.” At the end, 71 senators had voted for cloture, as it’s known, making eventual passage of the bill a certainty.

It was the first time in 37 years that the Senate had voted to end a filibuster.

In the 1960s, there were rarely more than 10 filibusters in a single two-year session of Congress. Over the years the number gradually escalated until in recent years the number has soared well past 100 in session after session – more than one a week. No longer reserved for big, important issues like the Civil Rights Act, in recent years it degenerated into a routine effort by one party (recently the Republicans, but also Democrats during the final years of the George W. Bush administration) to block nearly anything the other party wanted to do.

Late last year, the unprecedented level of gridlock led Democrats to push through a controversial reform that allows a simple majority to overcome filibusters of presidential appointments. While that’s had some positive results, it hasn’t changed some aspects of the Senate – and Washington in general – that are profoundly troubling.

Some issues used to transcend party. Both the campaign to pass civil rights and the desperation effort to block it were bipartisan. It was a big, emotional issue that both major parties wrestled with and felt profound divisions over. There was certainly plenty of arm-twisting to get to the final vote (after all, the president was Lyndon B. Johnson, the patron saint of arm-twisting), but ultimately the battle was about conscience, not partisan advantage.

After the bill’s passage, President Johnson famously said, “We have lost the South for a generation.” When was the last time you saw a leader of either party move heaven and earth to pass a law that he or she knew – not just suspected, but knew – would cause their party massive political damage in a region of the country where they’d been dominant?

The 71 votes that overcame the civil rights filibuster consisted of 27 Republicans and 44 Democrats. When was the last time you heard of something that controversial being decided in a manner so bipartisan? And when was the last time you saw top leaders of the Republican Party – the party that gave us the Emancipation Proclamation and amended the Constitution to establish legal equality for African Americans – standing up so firmly for civil rights?

No wonder Americans had more respect for Congress back then.

American society has progressed in many ways since 1964, and much of that progress stems directly from the Civil Rights Act. But we’ve lost something profound as well, particularly in the way our government functions.

As we commemorate this year’s historic anniversaries, let’s not just pat ourselves on the back for what we’ve gained. Let’s think about how to get back what we’ve lost. Let’s think about the things we could achieve and the country our children could inherit if big decisions were again based on big principles rather than partisan gamesmanship.

Clean Energy Policies Provide Jobs, Training

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  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 as one tool to help spread the word.

Climate Change, Poverty and Pollution: It’s All the Same Fight

CoLab Radio
By Alvaro Sanchez

Have you ever felt desperate? Today, I notice desperation in the faces of my neighbors in Oakland, California. Our world feels and looks unhealthy. Our communities carry a heavy burden and I share in their pain.

Low-income communities are hit first and worst by climate change, and now in the U.S. those same communities are also getting hit even worse by income inequality, poor access to healthcare, poor education, state sanctioned violence, housing insecurity, discrimination and hate. If I’ve learned anything over the past few years working on climate change policy, it’s that the fight against climate change is directly connected to the battle to end these other hardships.

As we have shown in California, we can have a clean energy future that leads with equity and invests in improving the living conditions of the most impacted communities.  We are building that future now.California’s climate policies clean the air and invest in projects that will save families money, improve health outcomes, create economic opportunity, promote community development, and educate thousands about the benefits of renewable energy.  California is leading the fight against pollution and poverty, and I want everyone around the U.S. to know about it.

One story that inspires me, is that of Jesus (Jesse) Magallanes, a young man I met on a solar installation project in Central California.

Born in Los Angeles, Jesse has lived in Visalia, a small town in California’s mainly agricultural Central Valley, since age 17, working in construction most of that time. But with the construction industry taking a big hit after the economic downturn, Jesse did odd jobs to get by – at packinghouses, driving a forklift, whatever he could get. The jobs were always part-time, at or near minimum wage, and he often had to juggle four or five small jobs at a time to barely make ends meet.

Now things are different for Jesse, because of smart California policies that charge polluters, put that money to work promoting clean energy, and guarantee that at least one quarter of those funds must go to projects benefitting disadvantaged communities. Jesse now has a new career as a solar installation crew leader, and thousands of low-income families have clean, affordable solar power.

Thanks to climate investments generated by AB 32, SB 535, and the Charge Ahead initiative (SB 1275), California is putting clean, electric vehicles in the hands of low-income families and generating millions in revenue for tree lined streets, efficient public transit, bike lanes, and housing near transit. That means reduced carbon emissions, cleaner air and more attractive, livable neighborhoods.

I could go on much longer than I have space to do here, but I urge you to learn more. The Greenlining Institute in partnership with the SB 535 Coalition has put together a website,, that tells the story of California climate policies and how they bring opportunity and investment into neighborhoods that too often were used as toxic dumping grounds. This is the future, and we invite you to join us.