Building Healthy Communities from the Ground up

How did Environmental Justice fare in the new state budget?

How much of California’s $108 billion dollar budget will address environmental justice issues? Here is CEJA’s perspective on some of the biggest environmental justice-related issues that the Legislature and the Governor approved in the budget.


Our highlights:

  • Over $200 million for climate solutions in disadvantaged communities
  • Authorization of $1.5 million for community-based groups working on environmental justice issues
  • CalEPA is tasked with developing a definition of “disadvantaged communities,” which could include the CalEnviroScreen tool.


Other big environmental justice and budget conversations included groundwater management and crude-by-rail. Read on for more info.


Investing in climate solutions in disadvantaged communities

One of the biggest budget battles was on the spending plan for new revenues coming in under California’s cap and trade program. While CEJA and our members know that long-term cap and trade won’t solve our climate crisis, ensuring that low-income communities and communities of color who will be hit first and worst by climate change receive the investments they need is important.


The legislature ultimately approved a plan to spend $872 million in 2014-2015 through the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund. In 2012 Senate Pro Tem de Leon passed SB 535, which requires at least 25% of these funds to benefit disadvantaged communities. Thanks to the hard work of groups like the Asian Pacific Environmental Network and the SB 535 Coalition, who co-sponsored the bill and worked throughout the budget process to see the mandate fulfilled, in 2014-2015 we will see the first round of this spending.


Over $200 million will be invested in programs that benefit disadvantaged communities, allocated through the following programs: Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities, low carbon transportation (such as clean freight and electric vehicles), weatherization, and urban forestry programs. See below for the full break down. With this allocation, the next tough battle of making sure this money actually gets into our communities through the implementation process begins!


Long-term, the budget locked in a permanent funding allocation that includes:

  • 25% for high speed rail
  • 35% for sustainable communities, which include 10% on affordable housing, 10% on sustainable communities through SB375, 10% in transit capitol and 5% on low carbon transit operations.
  • 40% for a variety of projects, such as low carbon transport, energy, forestry, and other climate-enhancing programs.
Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund Program
   14-15 budget
High Speed Rail  $          250.0M
Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program  $            25.0M
Low Carbon Transit Operations  $            25.0M
Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities  $          130.0M
Low Carbon Transportation  $          200.0M
Weatherization  $            75.0M
Agricultural Energy and Operational Efficiency  $            15.0M
Energy Conservation Assistance for public buildings  $            20.0M
Water Action Plan – Water-Energy Efficiency  $            40.0M
Water Action Plan – Wetlands and Watershed Restoration  $            25.0M
Sustainable Forests  $            25.0M
Sustainable Forests/Urban Forestry  $            17.0M
Waste Diversion  $            25.0M
Total  $           872.0M


Maintaining CalEPA’s role in defining disadvantaged communities

There was a last-minute fight over whether CalEPA’s new CalEnviroScreen tool should be used by the legislature to identify disadvantaged communities for the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund allocations. In the end, the final budget bill directs CalEPA to hold a workshop to develop the definition of “disadvantaged communities” at a workshop in the summer. Throughout the fight, we defended the use of the CalEnviroScreen tool for this purpose. CEJA has worked hard on its development, and we believe that identifying areas in California that face the highest impacts is a critical first step in helping them transform into healthy, thriving Green Zones. While the tool is not perfect and we will continue to work to refine it, it advances the overall framework of cumulative impacts in statewide policy and has already re-shaped the state conversation on how do we best target programs into our most overburdened communities.


New authorization for more funding in the California Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Justice Small Grants program

We know that communities have the best solutions to local environmental justice issues, but there are few funding sources at the state level that directly fund community-based organizations. The California Environmental Justice Small Grants program is one of those. Unfortunately, with no dedicated source of funding, there have only been 4 funding cycles through the program since its inception in 2004.

The 2014-2015 budget authorizes the California Environmental Protection Agency to put up to $1.5 million per year into the program, a significant increase from the $250k previous funding levels. In a step forward for the idea that communities most impacted by pollution should see much-needed investments, the budget authorizes CalEPA to also draw from penalties and legal settlements to get funding.

This budget authorization is a “sign-off” to actually allocate the money needed, otherwise CalEPA departments would argue that they can’t use that money to fund the program. CEJA will continue to push to ensure that the money gets into the grant program directly.

While it isn’t the big money our communities need, it represents a critical step forward in changing the statewide conversation around funding in our communities.


A Crude-by-Rail flurry of activity

There has been a lot going on at a statewide level around the issue of transporting dirty crude by rail. The Asian Pacific Environmental Network and Communities for a Better Environment (CEJA members) have taken a lead in getting cities like Oakland to oppose transporting the dirtiest of dirty fossil fuels by train, which has caused horrible disasters elsewhere. In the budget, more money was allocated for rail inspectors and for oil spill prevention and clean-up. While this is a far cry from adequate and California shouldn’t be transporting any crude by rail – especially when you see scary reports, like NRDC’s recent analysis that shows 4 million Californians are at risk if an accident occurs – it is good that it is getting more public debate and scrutiny. There are also several related bills moving through the legislature right now.


Drinking water and environmental justice

As California experiences another year of drought and record-high temperatures, lack of access to safe, affordable drinking water will become an even bigger issue for our communities. Many rural, Latino residents in small communities in agricultural regions rely on groundwater for drinking water, but groundwater is poorly managed and has been highly contaminated by industrial agriculture and mega-dairies. Our allies like Clean Water Action and Community Water Center have been working hard to win better groundwater management; this year’s budget allocated more money for testing private wells around the state and moved the Drinking Water Program from the Department of Public Health to the State Water Board, allowing better public oversight of funding and regulatory efforts for small communities..