Communities of Color Continue to Lead on Environmental & Climate Justice
It has been an overwhelming and painful year for communities throughout the state. As families face multiple crises, the California Environmental Justice Alliance (CEJA) continues to fight for solutions that will address the long-term exposures/violence of environmental racism and climate injustice in California.
As an alliance of environmental justice organizations throughout the state, we unite the powerful local organizing of our members in the communities most impacted by environmental hazards - low-income communities and communities of color - to create comprehensive opportunities for change at a statewide level to alleviate poverty and pollution.
Last month, a group called “United Latino Votes” reacted to an open letter CEJA published together with our allies the Sierra Club and Earthjustice. The ULV ad, directed to our allies at the Sierra Club, was riddled with dangerous falsehoods about working families and communities of color that mirror the fear-mongering tactics of fossil fuel companies. The ULV deceptively claimed to speak on behalf of California’s Latinx population, but in reality, it represents the interests of polluting industries and building developers with a legacy of environmental racism. ULV’s ad is a disguised effort meant to divide communities and confuse the public. Indeed, it is a classic example of astroturfing: gaslighting the real issues and seeking to obscure authentic community voices to mislead the public into believing that a policy view is widely held by the public.
Frontline communities well-know the industry playbook—like the one replicated in ULV’s ad—that spreads disinformation, tries to pit communities against each other, and suggests that our communities must choose between a healthy environment or family sustaining jobs. We know that our communities deserve both. Co-opting equity-based language cannot provide cover to the deeply harmful and exploitative agendas of industry front groups.
The truth is, communities of color, including Latinx communities, demand an equitable transition to a clean, renewable energy-based economy and want to see bolder policy action to address the climate crisis.
The environmental justice organizations that make up CEJA —including some of the largest and oldest in the country—have decades of work centered on racial and social justice. Our Alliance has long brought together parents, students, workers and elders living next to oil drilling operations, gas plants, refineries, diesel death zones, toxic hotspots, and in other sacrifice zones. Communities of color have borne unconscionable health, safety and economic burdens from the extractive economy, and also suffer disproportionate impacts from disastrous climate change events. Their life expectancy, health, and overall welfare are recklessly sacrificed for industry profits. It is no surprise that Black and Latinx communities whose health has been rendered vulnerable from pollution also have the highest hospitalization and death rates from COVID-19.
Despite the oil and gas industry’s propaganda, communities of color have already won important victories that lift equity and prioritize EJ communities as California shifts toward a renewable energy-based state. They are fighting against current inequities rooted in systemic racism like redlining, disinvestment, and siting of polluting sources, and against threats that would maintain and even widen inequities as we make the shift. Our work is thus based on a just transition from an extractive economy to one that is regenerative and life-affirming. This is done by pursuing root cause remedies to the overlapping and intersecting problems hitting our communities. We are striving for a future where we can thrive.
Community members of the City of Oxnard recently defeated a proposed fourth power plant on an “industrial beach” site on their coast. Residents, particularly youth, objected to further treatment as a dumping ground and demanded clean energy solutions to alleviate air pollution, provide reliable, clean energy, and create safe jobs. Residents mobilized through the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE) and united with groups like CEJA, the Sierra Club and Earthjustice on multi-faceted advocacy. By lifting the value of their lives and community, they refused to be left behind by our renewable energy transition and instead secured zero-emission power through one of the nation’s largest battery storage systems.
In the San Joaquin Valley, nine disadvantaged unincorporated communities are part of a pilot project with the Public Utilities Commission to transition from propane to solar energy. The goal of the project is to reduce emissions and energy costs in the communities while understanding and dismantling barriers to achieve the state’s electrification goals. And all across the state, the Solar on Multifamily Affordable Housing program is bringing clean solar power to renters. With demand so high, wait lists were filled within weeks of the program’s launch.
Communities in South Central Los Angeles have secured the shut-down of dangerous oil drilling operations next to homes and schools that were making children and whole families very ill, and are working to transform those sites to uses that benefit communities.
In Southeast Los Angeles and the Inland Empire, predominantly Latinx communities are fighting to ensure that the state’s pathway toward zero-emissions prioritizes medium and heavy-duty vehicles to stop diesel death, while providing accessibility and equity to workers of color.
In National City, community members have staunchly advocated for and achieved key victories in advancing a regional transportation plan that prioritizes affordable, clean, and accessible public transit, biking and walking.
Frontline communities will continue to work toward building regenerative economies that uplift impoverished and pollution-burdened neighborhoods. Community-based solutions ensure that low-income families and BIPOC communities are no longer forced to pay the full price of a fossil fuel-based economy with poor health, costly medical bills, and lower life-expectancy. For children suffering from asthma due to unhealthy air, to farm workers laboring in hazardous particulate matter as fires worsen, we must continue to lead and secure transformative changes that stabilize our climate and provide significant health and economic benefits.
We will continue to build with allies who stand with frontline communities to right the economic, health, and social inequalities stemming from environmental racism and the burning of fossil fuels.
We will never stop striving for prosperity and good health in the zero-emission renewable economy. Lifting the dignity, integrity, and value of working families and frontline communities, we will lovingly continue to build and unify to improve our lives and those of future generations. By centering equity we will overcome the climate and environmental health crises.