In 2020, a pandemic and historic fire season devastated working-class communities of color while billionaires steadily increased their profits. Despite the chaos of last year’s legislative session, frontline community members fought for racial, economic, and environmental justice.
After a year of turmoil and loss, we’ve assessed the voting record of all 120 California legislators to see who met the moment by standing strong for environmental justice — and who fell short.
COVID-19 has brought staggering loss to all of California, but nowhere more so than in Black, brown, and working-class communities, where decades of exposure to lung-damaging air pollution has led to overflowing ICUs in the pandemic.
From the very beginning, the scale and severity of the COVID crisis demanded urgent action from lawmakers. While some legislators proved to be champions for environmental justice communities, far too many did not. Only 6 lawmakers earned 100% ratings on our scorecard — down from the 30 who got perfect scores last year.
After a promising start to his term, Governor Newsom earned a 44% rating in 2020 by failing to side with environmental justice on the majority of bills that reached his desk.
This year, we call on all California decision-makers to address the climate, economic, and public health crises by joining the fight for environmental justice.
Environmental Justice Champions
An environmental justice champion brings the values of our movement outside the chamber — dialoguing with frontline communities, visiting the most impacted areas of the state, and proactively engaging with advocates across California. Environmental justice champions don’t tell local leaders about the problems in their communities — they listen. And an environmental justice champion doesn’t wait for a good bill to come up for a vote: they write one.
CEJA is proud to name these two legislators as our Environmental Justice Champions:
Asm. Rob Bonta — Asm. Bonta wrote or co-wrote half of the year’s key bills, the centerpiece being AB 1436, which he co-authored with Asm. David Chiu. Bonta proposed the framework for the California Green New Deal to fight climate change while protecting EJ communities.
Asm. Al Muratsuchi — Asm. Muratsuchi authored AB 345, a landmark bill to create a 2,500 ft. setback between homes, schools, hospitals and dangerous oil extraction sites, and fought hard for its passage the last two years.
Asm. David Chiu — Co-authored AB 1436, a critical measure to prevent COVID-19 evictions, and co-authored two other key bills, AB 860 and AB 2054. Asm. Chiu is a model example of how to engage in the environmental justice movement alongside communities and advocates in the most affected areas.
Asm. Robert Rivas — Authored multiple good bills, including AB 2043, a COVID-19 farmworker relief package which was signed into law and protects the health and safety of our state’s most vulnerable workers.
A New Lens: Community Scores
Traditionally, we have scored legislators strictly on the votes they cast for — or against — critical environmental justice legislation. But the job of an elected official doesn’t end with a vote, it begins there. This year, our member organizations added or subtracted additional points from the scores of legislators who went above and beyond — or fell badly short — in their engagement with the environmental justice community.
Asm. David Chiu topped the charts, earning 6 total Community Points from several groups for his exemplary work in the community, and co-authorship of AB 1436 to prevent evictions for COVID-19 related non-payment. Sen. Maria Durazo, Asm. Al Muratsuchi and Asm. Robert Rivas also earned bonus points and praise from multiple organizations.
Grading the Governor
In 2020, Governor Newsom vetoed important legislation while failing to lead on environmental justice.
The Governor vetoed a number of key measures, among them:
- AB 995 — Would have brought much needed oversight and reform to the DTSC. he Governor said he supported the bill but that it did not go as far as he hoped to go on this issue with future legislation. Yet he failed to lay out a roadmap on how all parties involved in the bill could get to yes.
- SB 1257 — Would have expanded CAL/OSHA protections for housekeepers, nannies and domestic workers, who need more workplace protections, especially in a time of COVID.
- AB 2054 — Would have lowered the likelihood of violent encounters with police by making funds available for communities to train unarmed crisis counselors that could be sent to certain incidents in lieu of armed officers.
In addition to vetoing these strong pieces of legislation, the Governor also signed two bills that CEJA and its member organizations opposed:
- SB 288 — Yet another bill that undermines CEQA and its critical environmental protections by giving more leash to development.
- AB 3163 — Allows biomethane producers to count this fuel toward state climate targets. Bad for ratepayers and very bad for carbon emissions.
This year revealed that when we do not get critical reforms and clear leadership, people suffer. This year, we will look to Governor Newsom to commit to environmental justice and lay out an ambitious, achievable vision for 2021 and beyond.
As we enter year two of the COVID-19 pandemic, CEJA continues the fight for working families and communities at the frontline of toxic pollution.
- Just Recovery from COVID-19 — CEJA and our members will work with a broad coalition of environmental, labor, racial justice, immigration, gender justice, and tenants’ rights organizers to advance equitable and long-term solutions to meet the ongoing needs of communities most impacted by the pandemic.
- Reform at the Department of Toxic Substances Control — Passing AB 995 last year was an important first step in reforming the DTSC, but was unfortunately vetoed by Gov. Newsom. In 2021, we insist the Legislature and Governor to work with frontline communities and meaningfully reform the department.
- Public Health and Safety Setbacks from Oil and Gas Drilling — AB 345 would have required CalGEM to establish health and safety buffer zones between oil operations and communities. While it didn’t pass the legislature last year, CEJA and our broad coalition of supporters will keep up the fight in 2021.
- Safe Housing for All Californians— This past year saw another round of bills attacking the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) under the guise of “streamlining.” CEJA opposes any bills that undermine CEQA’s integrity and will always fight to uphold environmental review processes and public engagement opportunities for low-income communities and communities of color.
- Equitable Access to Decision-Making — Last year, the Legislature’s removal of participation for committee meetings and floor votes (in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19) had the side effect of obstructing meaningful community engagement. In 2021, CEJA hopes the Legislature will take steps to engage with EJ organizations, and ensure residents are able to meaningfully and equitably participate in the legislative process.
Advancing our Principles
The Scorecard analysis is guided by the following principles of environmental justice:
- Prioritize and value prevention, human health, and improved quality of life: Human health and well-being must be given full weight, not overlooked for business interests or “cost effectiveness.”
- Do no harm: Decisions must do no further harm to environmental justice communities.
- Prioritize environmental justice communities: Confront the tragic, historic legacy and ongoing disproportionate placing of polluting sources in environmental communities, as well as the trend of disinvestment in those neighborhoods.
- Meaningfully engage with communities: Decisions informed by residents of environmental justice communities, which means decision-makers have to be proactive and culturally relevant in soliciting input on actions to improve health, responsive to the community concerns and transparent in their work, to ensure continued engagement and accountability for decisions.
- Be proactive: Decisions should not wait for communities to bring forth solutions, instead proactively reaching out to impacted community groups for ideas and feedback.
- Take intersectional approaches: Environmental justice communities are systematically disenfranchised and experience the impacts of patriarchy, racism and state violence. To ameliorate systemic exclusion, we must partner to advance intersectional solutions that creatively address the multiple crises faced by Californians.
- Be responsive: Decision makers need to be responsive and accountable to community concerns when addressed. Offices should make continued discussion a priority, working on an issue until it is resolved.
- Respect community expertise: Environmental justice communities are experts in their communities, and know the solutions they want to see. But too often, community voices are ignored for lack of “verification”, which delays action that could prevent further harm. Decision-makers should turn to community leaders for input and trust what they are told.