By Chelsea Tu

The 2015-16 legislative session in Sacramento wrapped up with watershed victories for social and environmental justice. A series of bills, among them one that directs climate investments to benefit low-income families and communities, were signed into law by the Governor. These victories affirm that the voices of under-served communities and their advocates are being heard and heeded in the Capitol.

The top priority bill of Public Advocates’ Metropolitan Equity team this year was AB 1550 (Gomez). The bill builds on the success of SB 535 (De León 2012), which required that at least 25 percent of polluter fees generated from the Cap-and-Trade program be spent to benefit disadvantaged communities as defined by the CalEnviroScreen map, with at least 10 percent spent within those communities. Under SB 535, these two set-asides were merged, so that the 25 percent of investments guaranteed to disadvantaged communities was in parity with the share of population living in those communities – although not nearly enough to counteract years of disinvestment and unequal pollution burdens many of those communities have suffered.

AB 1550 builds on that cutting-edge paradigm in three key respects. First, it requires 25 percent of revenues to be spent on investments that both are “located within” and “benefit individuals living in” disadvantaged communities. Second, it requires at least 10 percent of polluter fees to be invested in ways that benefit low-income households and communities anywhere in the State. Finally, AB 1550 makes these two set-asides additive, so that no less than 35 percent of cap-and-trade auction revenues will be spent to benefit low-income families and residents of low-income and disadvantaged communities.

In short, this landmark bill invests real dollars in projects that both reduce greenhouse gas emissions and allow the neediest families to save on electricity, transportation, and other household costs—underscoring the fact that California can reach its climate goals while also tackling the crisis of extreme inequality. Moreover, it guarantees resources that under-served communities need in order to begin to adapt to the impacts of climate change on their communities. The bill was signed in a ceremony in Fresno on September 14, 2016.

Public Advocates also advocated for the passage of AB 1613 (Committee on Budget), a budget bill which appropriates $900 million of climate fees over the next year to a suite of green projects, including tree planting, solar and electric vehicle rebates, and home weatherization that will bring direct economic and health benefits to underserved communities and low-income families.

Additionally, we are proud to have worked with our allies on several other key climate and environmental justice bills that have been signed into law:

AB 197 (Garcia) and SB 32 (Pavley): These two bills will require the State to adopt more aggressive greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals, extends the state’s target for reducing greenhouse gasses from 2020 (as set by AB 32 in 2006) to 2030, and strengthens the regulatory framework necessary to meet these emissions reduction goals.

SB 1000 (Leyva): Sponsored by the California Environmental Justice Alliance (CEJA) and the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice (CCAEJ), this bill requires local general plans to include an “Environmental Justice (EJ) Element,” as well as policies to reduce the unique or compounded health risks in disadvantaged/low-income communities facing disproportionate pollution burdens. The EJ Element must identify objectives and policies to promote civil engagement in the public decision-making process; and identify objectives and policies that prioritize improvements and programs that address the needs of disadvantaged communities.

AB 2722 (Burke): Known as the Transformative Climate Communities Act, this bill (funded with $140 million in this fiscal year) directs climate investments to neighborhood-level plans that include greenhouse gas emissions reduction projects that provide local economic, environmental, and health benefits to disadvantaged communities. This bill is sponsored by CEJA and the Greenlining Institute.

This year’s successes were long overdue, and mark only the beginning of what California needs to do to alleviate the disproportionate pollution burdens that low-income communities of color live with every single day. Thanks to the strong partnerships we have forged with the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, the Coalition for Clean Air, the Greenlining Institute, and the Strategic Concepts in Organizing and Policy Education, CEJA, and many others, Californian families can breathe a little easier, and our collective path forward to a healthier planet is a little brighter. Together with our partners, we look forward to continuing to bring justice for under-served communities and making investments toward a thriving future for all.


See here for a map on the types and locations of projects that have been funded from Cap and Trade revenues.

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