Building Healthy Communities from the Ground up

Environmental Justice Wins in the 2016 Legislative Session

It was another big year for the environmental justice community. CEJA is extremely proud to have helped the passage of six key environmental justice bills:

  • SB 1000 (Levya) Planning for Healthy Communities Act
  • AB 2722 (Burke and Arambula) Transformative Climate Communities
  • SB 32 (Pavley) 2030 Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets
  • AB 197 (E. Garcia) Equity & Transparency in Climate Act
  • AB 1550 (Gomez) Increased Climate Investments
  • AB 1937 (Gomez) EJ in Power Plant Siting

Overall, 14 bills that were on CEJA’s Legislative Agenda got signed into law! These victories are the culmination of years of building power at the statewide level, and we are proud to be working with so many incredible members and partner organizations. We are grateful to everyone who helped make these historic environmental justice wins! Read on for our full analysis on EJ in the 2016 Legislative Session.

Climate Justice Takes Center Stage

The 2016 legislative session showed that climate justice can no longer be ignored in state policy. The path to passing SB 32 and AB 197 highlighted the new political reality for climate policy: to win on climate, we’ve got to include the issues communities of color care about. We need climate solutions that work for communities that have been or will be hit first and worst by climate change and related pollution, and addressing equity issues must be a central piece of California policy solutions moving forward.

SB 32 by Senator Fran Pavley sets ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals for 2030, ensuring our state make significant cuts in carbon dioxide, and if done correctly, will put us on a path towards transitioning off fossil fuels. AB 197 by Assembly Member Eduardo Garcia enacted governance reforms at the California Air Resources Board, requires increased transparency of data related to greenhouse gas emissions and criteria air pollutants, and – most significantly – requires the ARB to prioritize measures that will ensure direct emission reductions from greenhouse gas facilities. AB 197’s provisions on direct emission reductions are critical for frontline communities who are already struggling with health and quality of life issues due to living next to large sources of pollution, and the data transparency will help us better understand if local emitters are contributing to toxic hotspots.

Environmental Justice in Land Use Planning

One of the biggest victories from the legislative session is SB 1000 by Senator Connie Leyva, a bill co-sponsored by Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice and CEJA. The bill integrates environmental justice into statewide land-use policy, requiring cities and counties to consider environmental justice in their General Plans.

Many environmental inequities in California can be traced back to poor land use planning. The unhealthy mix of industry and residences contributes to the disproportionate burden of pollution on low-income communities and communities of color. SB 1000 gives California a state law to direct local governments to consider environmental justice. Land use planning is an empowering tool for communities to reimagine how neighborhoods can look and local governments can now proactively plan for and address environmental justice concerns at the outset when developing long-term goals, policies and visions for the growth of their cities.

Unfortunately, another important bill that would have addressed inequitable land-use development, SB 1318 by Senator Wolk and sponsored by CEJA partner Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, did not make it to the Governor’s desk. The measure faced opposition from local agencies who did not want to ensure basic infrastructure needs of all Californians are met.

Increasing Climate Investments in EJ Communities

Companions to the big climate bills that passed were two bills that will boost climate change spending in California’s low-income communities of color.

CEJA was proud to co-sponsor, along with Greenlining Institute, AB 2722, authored by Assembly Members Autumn Burke and Joaquin Arambula. The bill creates the Transformative Climate Communities program, which will increase investments in environmental justice communities. It will fund large-scale climate projects that have public health, social and economic benefits in areas that are on the frontlines of climate change, helping these communities transition towards the sustainable, resilient and just future we need.

AB 1550 by Assembly Member Jimmy Gomez increases the set aside of climate investments going to vulnerable communities, allocating additional Greenhouse Gas Reduction Funds for low-income households and areas directly adjacent to overburdened communities.

These bills were accompanied by a Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund spending plan that includes $140 million for Transformative Climate Communities. The total $900 million for climate investments will fund much-needed projects and programs, and included an emphasis on important EJ programs such as funding for electrification of heavy duty vehicles and programs to increase access of low-income communities to electric vehicles, urban greening, and outreach to environmental justice communities. We hope future iterations of the spending plan include funding for transit, especially in EJ communities.

Taking Aim at Dirty Power Plants and the CA Public Utilities Commission

The fight of our partner organization, the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE), against a fourth dirty power plant in Oxnard inspired an important EJ bill, AB 1937 by Assembly Member Jimmy Gomez. The Central Coast region has been treated as a dumping ground for dirty natural gas power plants, and yet the California Public Utilities Commission is still steamrolling ahead with a plan to build another power plant in the Latino community of Oxnard.

With weak state laws that fail to consider EJ in power plant siting, CEJA and our members Communities for a Better Environment worked to create a new law that requires utilities to actively seek projects that are not in environmental justice communities AND actively seek renewable energy projects that benefit EJ communities. AB 1937 is an important step towards bringing justice to communities who have long suffered the disproportionate burdens of living next to dirty power plants and will bring more local renewable energy into communities that need it the most.

Increasing EJ Representation on Local Regulatory Agencies

Environmental justice communities need representation at the highest levels of decision-making, and this session saw a range of measures to increase representation of communities of color at key regulatory agencies. The bills build off the paradigm shifting AB 1288 that passed in 2015, adding two EJ seats to the California Air Resources Board.

AB 2616, authored by Assembly Member Autumn Burke, is the only measure that made it across the finish line. The bill ensures that at least one member of the California Coastal Commission resides in or work with environmental justice communities.

One very important measure SB 1387 by Senate pro Tem Kevin de Leon that would have added two new environmental justice seats to the South Coast Air Quality Management District unfortunately failed. This critical bill would have helped improve air quality in the greater LA region, which suffers from some of the worst smog in the country and is home to almost half of California’s population, the majority of whom are people of color. The bill faced fierce opposition from industry and came on the heels of a conservative take over of the agency. Another early session effort to better incorporate environmental justice into the California Transportation Commission (CTC) also died in the legislature, facing opposition from Moderate Democrats. We hope to see continued efforts to include environmental justice at these two important agencies in the future.

Where’s the Transportation Justice?

The failed effort to incorporate EJ seats into the CTC, plus the failure of almost all transportation and environmental justice related bills, highlights the need to better incorporate environmental justice into transportation policy. From Assembly Member Holden’s worthy effort to get free transit passes for youth, to efforts to set aside transportation funding for EJ communities, almost no major EJ and transportation related measures got to the Governor’s desk. Transportation justice advocates and community groups are already working hard to shift this tide for the next session.

Dairies Flex their Muscle

Big Ag remains one of the biggest road blocks to more equitable, effective climate policy. One disappointment this year was the watering down of SB 1383, by Senator Ricardo Lara. This bill would have regulated “super pollutants” – toxic emissions that are bad for the climate, air quality and public health. The bill tackled, among other things, methane emissions from large industrial dairies, which are usually located in rural, low-income communities of color. While the bill started out strong, unfortunately the dairy industry was able to secure amendments that weakened the regulatory measures.

Workers Rights Go Hand-in-hand with Environmental Justice

Two exciting bills that support low-wage workers were both signed into law. SB 1015 by Senator Connie Leyva makes permanent overtime protections for domestic workers, and AB 1066 by Assembly Member Lorena Gonzalez expands overtime pay for farmworkers. These two sectors of workers – domestic workers and farmworkers – have for years been deliberately excluded from labor protections. They will now have opportunities to get the fair pay they deserve. Many residents in the communities where CEJA members live and work are domestic workers or farmworkers. These bills were passed through the hard work of many community members and organizations across California, and we congratulate them all!

Housing is Also an Environmental Justice Issue

California is facing a growing housing crisis. In many urban areas, and increasingly rural areas too, housing prices are skyrocketing, leading to the displacement of long-time residents, often low-income communities and communities of color. Displacement not only negatively impacts the communities where our members work, it is also bad for the climate, leading to increased car traffic and thus emissions.

Unfortunately, two important measures – SB 1053 by Senator Mark Leno which would limit housing discrimination based on income and AB 2512 by Assembly Member Mullin to allow requirements for low and moderate income housing in new developments locally – both died. In addition, the Governor pulled an end of session play to push through a misconstrued effort to increase affordable housing by streamlining environmental and other local planning requirements. The “by right” proposal would also have undermined higher, already existing requirements for affordable housing construction. The controversial proposal died amidst fierce debate, but could come back.

Notable EJ Mentions

AB 1787 by Assembly Member Jimmy Gomez will help the many non-English speaking residents of California better participate in decision-making. The bill requires equal public comment period for non-English speakers at hearings. All too often, people speaking languages other than English get their comment period cut short to accommodate interpretation. This bill ensures that people whose testimony is being interpreted still get the same public comment time. This is an issue CEJA worked on in previous legislative years, and we are thrilled to see it signed into law.

Water justice advocates also scored some important victories, including $10 million in the state budget for improved access to clean drinking water in schools and SB 1398 by Senator Leyva which will develop an inventory of lead pipes in California’s water distribution, allowing the state to better address water contamination caused by distribution lines.

2016 Environmental Justice Legislative Agenda

BillIssueCEJA's PositionStatus
SB 1000 (Leyva)Environmental Justice Element in General PlansSupportSigned into law
AB 2722 (Burke)Transformative Climate CommunitiesSupportSigned into law
AB 197 (E. Garcia)Transparency at Air Resources BoardSupportSigned into law
SB 32 (Pavley)Greenhouse Gas Emissions LimitsSupportSigned into law
AB 1550 (Gomez)GGRF InvestmentsSupportSigned into law
AB 1937 (Gomez)Power Plant SitingSupportSigned into law
AB 2616 (Burke)EJ Seats to Coastal CommissionSupportSigned into law
SB 380 (Pavley)Natural Gas StorageSupportSigned into law
AB 1787 (Gomez)Public Comments TranslationSupportSigned into law
AB 1066 (Gonzalez)Farmworker OvertimeSupportSigned into law
SB 1015 (Leyva)Overtime for Domestic WorkersSupportSigned into law
SB 1279 (Hancock)Coal Funding ProhibitionSupportSigned into law
AB 2125 (Chiu) Healthy Nail SalonsSupportSigned into law
SB 1383 (Lara)Short Lived Climate PollutantsNeutralSigned into law
SB 215 (Leno & Hueso)Public Utilities Commission SupportSigned into law
SB 1398 (Leyva)Public Water SystemsSupportSigned into law
AB 1205 (Gomez)
Hazardous Waste, Facility Permitting SupportHeld in Legislature
AB 1062 (Bonta)EJ Small GrantsSupportHeld in Legislature
SB 1387 (De Leon)EJ seats on SCAQMDSupportHeld in Legislature
AB 2222 (Holden)Transit Pass ProgramSupportHeld in Legislature
SB 1318 (Wolk)Drinking Water InfrastructureSupportHeld in Legislature
SB 1053 (Leno)Housing Discrimination SupportHeld in Legislature
AB 1759 (Bonta)Pollution PenaltySupportHeld in Legislature
AB 1882 (Williams)State Water Resource Control BoardSupportHeld in Legislature
AB 2292 Gordon)CalEnviroScreenOpposeHeld in Legislature