Building Healthy Communities from the Ground up

Environmental Justice Advances in the 2017 Legislative Session

In 2017, we saw a lot of sacrifices and compromises for tough votes, showing that we still have a lot of work to do in order to build the deep leadership we need for environmental justice in the legislature. From the disastrous SB 1 trucker amendments that allows older trucks to pollute even more, to the industry giveaways in the extension of cap and trade, to the failure to get much needed, long-term relief for safe drinking water needs over the finish line, CEJA learned many lessons on how critical it is to strategically lift up our environmental justice priorities.

Still, there were bright spots this legislative session. The resistance against these sacrifices was fierce and felt in the legislature, and showed the growing power of environmental justice communities. Moving forward, we will continue to build our power to put an end to these political plays that impact our communities’ health.  

Overall, 9 bills on CEJA and CEJA Action’s Environmental Justice Legislative Agenda got signed into law. One of our priority bills that CEJA co-sponsored with the Women’s Policy Institute CEJA team, AB 523 by Assemblymember Eloise Gomez Reyes, passed through the legislature with bipartisan support and was signed by Governor Brown. AB 523 will bring critical funds for renewable energy in disadvantaged and low-income neighborhoods. We also saw bills move forward that make important contributions to housing and immigrant rights at a time of federal assaults on immigrant communities.

Another bright spot was the recent recommendation at the California Energy Commission committee to reject the proposed Puente power plant. While not legislative, this is an unprecedented step reflective of our strong analysis around renewable energy and against dirty power plants, the importance of organizing and community leadership on the ground, and our growing influence with powerful regulatory agencies that implement bills and influence the legislative context. This turning point in California signals the transition away from natural gas and fossil fuels.

Read on for our full analysis on EJ in the 2017 Legislative Session.

Click below to jump to a section:

Climate Justice
Clean Transportation
Energy Equity
Greenhouse Gas Reduction Funds
Toxic Waste
Safe Drinking Water
Housing Rights
Parks Bond

Standing Strong on Hard Climate Votes

During this legislative session we saw the depth of moderate politics in the Democratic party, which made all two-thirds votes extremely ugly. While we have a democratic supermajority, the large number of moderate or conservative Democrats continue to be an obstacle to effectively pass the big progressive policies we need, which require a two-thirds vote. The 2017 legislative session proved that we need to continue educating elected officials about environmental justice issues and keep building the political will to make sure they stand strong in the face of hard votes, while holding them accountable when they do not.

The passage of AB 398 by Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia, a bill that extended California’s cap and trade program through 2030, was a blow to environmental justice communities and California’s climate policy due to the several giveaways to big polluters. We have serious concerns that the cap and trade program passed will allow polluters to use more carbon offsets and allowances to meet their compliance obligations, rather than actually reducing carbon emissions at the local and statewide levels. Furthermore, this bill also imposed a local preemption on local air districts from regulating carbon emissions. This shocking rollback impacts our ability to regulate the main drivers of climate change for the next decade and has already had a chilling effect on progressive regulatory approaches at local air districts. Read our full analysis of the cap and trade extension here.

In order to minimize the damage done, the Air Resources Board must use its significant discretion to create the most aggressive regulations possible during the implementation of AB 398. CEJA and CEJA Action, together with our members, will also be working hard to defeat ACA 1 by Assemblymember Chad Mayes, the toxic ballot initiative that Governor Brown negotiated with Republicans in exchange for their votes on AB 398. ACA 1 will be put before voters in June 2018 and, if passed, would subject climate investments to a two-thirds vote in 2024. Ultimately, ACA 1 will make it nearly impossible for these critical climate investments to reach EJ communities. We will be mobilizing to ensure this initiative, a clear step backwards, does not get passed.

While we and many other EJ groups very successfully raised the issues of localized air quality, AB 617 by Assemblymember Cristina Garcia, the final bill that passed, was insufficient to justify the regressive impacts of AB 398. AB 617 lacks clear regulatory emission reduction timelines and measures that we wanted to see, and instead creates a new framework and program at ARB with some potential to achieve the emission reductions we need. However, there is no guarantee these emission reductions will happen. Whether AB 617 actually achieves the emission reductions that EJ communities actually need will depend on aggressive implementation by ARB and local air districts.

CEJA is doubling down on our power building strategies. We are building the political power of low-income communities and communities of color so our issues cannot be sacrificed in the face of a political deal or a “greater good.” We are building strategic alliances with organizations that share our values of equity and justice and will deepen our coordination to ensure that we can collectively advance environmental and social justice.

Pushing for Clean Transportation

We saw California double down on transportation issues in many ways, from funding road repair, to directing billions of Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund investments, to clean transportation – in particular, in the heavy duty sector. For decades, environmental justice communities have dealt with more and more trucks driving past our homes and schools, pumping more pollution into our lungs. Due to the trucking industry’s refusal to take responsibility for their toxic pollution, many EJ communities in California have some of the most polluted air in the nation.

However, the California Trucking Association lobbyists convinced state legislators to include a dirty provision in SB 1 by Senator Jim Beall that would prevent the California Air Resources Board from standing up for our air and preventing toxic truck pollution in our communities. The provision used overly broad language to allow trucking companies to use older trucks that pollute our air even more. The so-called “trucker amendments” in SB 1 were an unacceptable preemption of regulations on a main source of dirty emissions in EJ communities. We look forward to supporting the efforts of EJ groups to ensure ARB addresses the burden of goods movement and freight hubs on the health of EJ communities.

We welcome the investments on clean transportation and appreciate the leadership of Senate President pro Tem Kevin de Leon in advancing the California Clean Air leadership, which will lead to cleaner air in our communities. We hope this money is focused in EJ communities and on zero emission vehicles. See our principles for clean transportation investment for more info on our guide for deploying this funds.

On the bright side, we are one step closer to transportation justice with the signing of AB 805 by Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher. AB 805 marks the beginning of a new San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) that is equitable and representative of the neighborhoods where the need for affordable and accessible public transportation and bike and pedestrian infrastructure remains highest. It includes investments in transit, pedestrian, and bicycling infrastructure in San Diego’s most impacted neighborhoods and abundant and affordable transportation options that bring community members better access to jobs, housing, and services. We thank Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher and the leadership of our members Environmental Health Coalition for successfully moving this bill through.

A Bright Spot for Energy Equity

An achievement in the session was the passage of AB 523 by Assemblymember Eloise Reyes, a bill that CEJA was proud to co-sponsor with the Women’s Policy Institute CEJA team. AB 523 unlocks access to clean energy for disadvantaged communities by removing barriers that continue to limit residents from fully participating in energy programs. It dedicates at least 25% of Electric Program Investment Charge (EPIC) funds for clean energy projects in disadvantaged communities and 10% to low-income households. This will ensure EJ communities have an equal opportunity and access to energy efficient services and programs. We thank Assemblymember Reyes for her leadership on energy equity.

We were deeply disappointed that SB 100, Senate pro Tem Kevin de Leon’s effort to ensure California transitions to 100% renewable energy, was held. SB 100 holds the promise to bring real and direct benefits to environmental justice communities and is a critical step forward in our state’s efforts to address climate change and to transition off of fossil fuels. In light of what happened with cap and trade, it is truly sad that our legislative leadership was willing to craft any and all deals to make cap and trade happen, but would not do the same to get SB 100 across the finish line.

The other major policy proposal put on the table at the 11th hour was the regionalization of the western electricity grid, a monumental effort that requires thorough vetting and a true public process. As California embarks on this ambitious effort to decarbonize the electricity grid, it will be imperative that we build in safeguards for EJ communities to prevent increases in emissions in EJ communities to ensure regionalization actually results in increased local renewable energy projects in EJ communities. We must work to ensure there are no negative air quality impacts in already overburdened communities as a result of rising emissions from power plants.

CEJA also co-sponsored an energy bill with our member the Asian Pacific Environmental Network that became a two-year bill. SB 366 by Senator Connie Leyva would improve the state’s existing shared solar program by ensuring that it financially benefits low-income customers and has a strong environmental justice focus. By expanding renewable energy and making renewable energy more affordable, SB 366 ensures low-income customers receive meaningful bill savings. We will continue working this bill to ensure that all Californians have access to the health and economic benefits that increased renewable energy can bring to our communities.

Greenhouse Gas Reduction Funds to EJ Communities

The final Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund investment plan passed by the legislature is vastly different from previous plans. It reflects the large number of deals cut to obtain votes for cap and trade’s passage, especially to buy off the agricultural industry and agricultural districts. Many of these investments, such as the millions of dollars for dairy digesters, have negative localized impacts on EJ communities. We look forward to re-balancing the spending priorities to ensure these kinds of projects  – with dubious climate benefits and negative local impacts – are defunded in future spending plans.

We were disappointed to see only $10 million allocated to the Transformative Climate Communities program, created by AB 2722, a bill CEJA sponsored last year. It is critical that the TCC program receives full funding for future investment plans. We have been encouraged by the guideline development process at the Strategic Growth Council, which overall has included a great deal of public participation and a meaningful community engagement process. We hope to see local agencies continue working in good faith with community partners to create projects that meet the spirit of the program and support real community needs and leadership.

Our members worked hard to ensure that the TCC program is developed and implemented in an effective, equitable way, and SGC has had a responsive, mostly transparent community engagement process that can be lifted as an example for other agencies. We congratulate our partner the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability for its hard work and community engagement in pushing for an open process with the City of Fresno to move a package forward that was truly developed and led by residents to secure these much needed climate investments. We hope that the TCC program will be a model for other statewide programs to advance more effective community engagement and comprehensive community investments.

Other new priorities in the GGRF spending plan, outlined in AB 398, that have potential to address EJ communities include the new focus on criteria and toxic air contaminants and adaptation. We look forward to seeing how the Strategic Growth Council implements the new adaptation program and hope it aligns with climate justice principles.

Reforming the Department of Toxic Substances Control

While a much needed package of Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) reform bills from the Assembly did get to the Governor’s desk, most were vetoed or watered down under pressure for the Governor’s office. In addition, SB 774 by Senator Connie Leyva, the bill with the potential for the biggest DTSC reform was made into a 2-year bill with the commitment that Governor’s office and Senator Leyva’s office will work throughout the interim on a comprehensive DTSC reform bill. SB 774 would create a much needed oversight board for the DTSC so that residents on the frontlines of toxic waste are able to take their concerns and ideas directly to a new oversight board, which would then direct the DTSC.

The recommendation to create a governing board in order to improve accountability and transparency emerged after years of community organizing around the devastating failures of the DTSC to protect our communities from toxic waste. The Legislative Independent Review Panel also issued the same recommendation for agency reform. Therefore, the passage of SB 774 will be a critical environmental justice policy to pass in 2018.

Identifying EJ Communities with CalEnviroScreen 3.0

The end of session saw an unprecedented push back from Bay Area Caucus, led by Assemblymember Phil Ting, against CalEnviroScreen and its use to guide state funding decisions, despite the passage of AB 1550 last year that increases climate investments in disadvantaged and low-income areas to address these concerns. We are disappointed that Bay Area legislators were willing to hold good policy hostage for the sake of getting more money into their districts, which already receive significant climate investments.

CalEnviroScreen provides one clear, accessible, science-based, and state-approved public tool to identify and define communities that are disproportionately burdened by multiple sources of pollution. It is an incredibly versatile tool that could be included in much broader environmental policy applications outside of funding, such as siting and permitting, prioritizing areas for environmental enforcement or cleanup, and long-term planning.

While it is important to ensure we are continuing to improve CalEnviroScreen and address any shortcomings, the tool itself has proved an important addition to state policy and public information, allowing the legislature to target new programs and investments into EJ communities in ways never done before.

Fight for Safe Drinking Water Continues

The diverse coalition of more than 90 organizations that supported SB 623 by Senator Bill Monning remains committed to the fight for safe drinking water. One million Californians turn on their taps to dangerous water and this injustice has gone on for too long.

SB 623 would establish a Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund to provide an ongoing source of funding to ensure all Californians have access to safe and affordable drinking water that addresses both nitrate and naturally occurring contaminants. The policies represented in SB 623 are informed by years of experience and discussion about how to solve California’s long-standing gap in operations and maintenance funding for drinking water treatment. They are the result of a year of bipartisan policy discussions, convened by the author, Senator Bill Monning, and crafted with input from major environmental justice, environmental, water, health, and agricultural stakeholders.

We urge the Legislature to act swiftly to resolve California’s long-standing drinking water crisis, and to take advantage of the unique opportunity afforded by SB 623 to do so. When the legislature reconvenes in January, advocacy will continue to ensure all Californians have access to the basic human right to safe and affordable water.

We were also up against a bad water bill, AB 313 by Assemblymember Adam Gray, which was vetoed. It would have weakened the ability of the California Water Board to have effective water rights enforcement. This would have set a poor precedent for the agency, increases state costs, and threatens California’s rivers and fisheries, and the communities and jobs that depend of them.

California Becomes a Sanctuary State

In the face of federal rollbacks on immigration policies, we are so proud of our state for standing with immigrant communities and passing SB 54 by Senate pro Tem Kevin de Leon, the California Values Act, and making California a sanctuary state. The law largely prohibits state and local law enforcement agencies, including school and security officers, from using money or staff to investigate, question, hold or arrest people for immigration violations. It establishes clear divisions between law enforcement and federal immigration authorities in an attempt to ensure local officers do not become part of deportation efforts under the Trump administration.

Another important bill passed for immigrant protections, AB 291 by Assemblymember David Chiu, bars landlords from harassing or discriminating against tenants based on their immigration status or perceived immigration status. While there are anti-discrimination laws for renters, there are none that specifically prohibit discrimination or harassment based on immigration status. Now the Immigrant Tenant Protection Act will ensure tenants no longer have to fear eviction or threats of rent increases due to their immigration status.

Housing Justice Must Include Tenant Protections

We were glad to see a bigger focus on housing justice this year and a sustainable source of funding for affordable housing passed in SB 2 by Senator Toni Atkins and SB 3 by Senator Jim Beall. In addition, AB 1505, by Assemblymember Richard Bloom, will restore the authority of local government to require a percentage of affordable housing units in new rental housing developments.

After years of inaction to address the housing crisis, we praise the passage of these critical bills. Unfortunately, AB 1506 by Assemblymember Bloom to repeal the Costa Hawkins Rental Housing Act was stalled, which would have help preserve existing affordable housing and keep tenants in their homes. We will continue fighting to see even stronger language in housing policy that protect tenants from displacement. We urge Governor Brown in his final year to ramp up funding and repeal Costa Hawkins to protect residents from displacement with strong local rent control.

Increased Funding for Parks

This year, CEJA applauds Governor Brown for signing SB 5, the California Drought, Water, Parks, Climate, Coastal Protection, and Outdoor Access For All Act of 2018 by Kevin de León, which provides a $4.1 billion bond measure on the June 2018 ballot.

It’s been too long since Californians received adequate funding for drought, water, parks, climate, coastal protection projects and infrastructure and the time is now to invest in in critical priorities that have been neglected for years, while lifting up communities with good jobs and livable, healthy communities.

2017 Environmental Justice Legislative Agenda

AB 523 (Reyes)Equity in Clean Energy InvestmentsSupport (Priority)Signed by the Governor
SB 623 (Monning)Safe and Affordable Drinking WaterSupport (Priority)2-Year Bill- Held in Assembly Rules
SB 774 (Leyva)Hazardous Waste Management CouncilSupport (Priority)2-Year Bill- Held in Assembly Floor
AB 17 (Holden)Transit Pass ProgramSupportVetoed by the Governor
AB 179 (Cervantes)Transportation Equity ActSupportSigned by the Governor
AB 805 (Gonzalez-Fletcher)SANDAG Accountability and San Diego Region Transportation ReformSupportSigned by the Governor
AB 890 (Medina)Land Use: Planning and Zoning InitiativesSupportVetoed by the Governor
AB 1179 (Kalra)Hazardous Waste Facilities: InspectionsSupportVetoed by the Governor
AB 1328 (Limon)Well Chemical TransparencySupportSigned by the Governor
AB 1397 (Low)Local Planning: Housing ElementSupportSigned by the Governor
AB 1647 (Muratsuchi)Petroleum Refineries Air MonitoringSupportSigned by the Governor
SB 2 (Atkins)Building Homes and Jobs ActSupportSigned by the Governor
SB 49 (De León & Stern)California Environmental, Public Health, and Workers Defense Act of 2017Support2-Year Bill- Held in Assembly Floor
SB 54 (De León)The California Values ActSupportSigned by the Governor
SB 100 (De León)100% Clean EnergySupport2-Year Bill- Held in Assembly Floor
SB 258 (Lara)Clean Product Right to Know Act of 2017SupportSigned by the Governor
SB 520 (Mitchell)Electricity: Intervenor FundingSupportHeld in Assembly Appropriations- Suspense File