A Challenging but Powerful Year for Frontline Communities
In the face of those overwhelming odds, our community-led alliance fought and won critical battles in the statewide movement for environmental justice, often despite challenges from some of our elected leaders who, rather than serving their constituents, advanced the agendas of big oil and gas executives and other corporate investors. Nowhere was this more evident than in the state Senate, where climate bills often went to die in 2021.
To sum up a year of struggle, survival and—yes—even progress, the California Environmental Justice Alliance assessed the voting record of all 120 California legislators to see who took a stand for environmental justice in 2021, and who sided with powerful corporate interests instead of the people.
Only six of our 120 California legislators earned scores of over 100 by supporting working class families and communities of color every time they were called upon to lead. The leadership of our 2021 environmental justice champions—Senator Lena Gonzalez, Senator Monique Limón, and Senator Josh Becker—demonstrated the ability of state legislators to meaningfully address the health and environmental justice concerns of their constituents and advocate for the wellbeing and resilience of all environmental justice communities.
Frontline residents and climate justice advocates fought and won $150 million to create a new Community Resilience Centers program for California. This programmatic funding, supported by the Governor’s office and a host of legislative allies, is a significant victory for residents facing chronic pollution and ever-worsening climate disasters.
Funding for resilience centers was accompanied in the budget by multi-year funding for the Transformative Climate Communities (TCC) program, a program that invests in everyday Californians’ abilities to create a comprehensive vision for the neighborhoods that they need to thrive.
Outside of the Legislature, frontline communities achieved a decades’ long victory with the creation of a statewide buffer zone to protect their neighborhoods from harmful oil and gas drilling. In October of 2021, the Governor’s California Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM) took a huge step forward for health and safety by issuing the first draft rule to phase out new oil and gas drilling within 3,200 feet of homes, hospitals, schools, prisons, and workplaces. Although this proposal includes significant loopholes that could allow for the extension of current drilling, the draft rule is a huge victory. Now, residents are calling upon CalGEM to close the loopholes and end existing drilling within 3,200 feet of the places where people live, work and play.
Outside of the Legislature, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) paid lip service to environmental justice commitments while continuing to defend a failing cap and trade program and other inefficient, unproven climate policy dead ends.
In 2022 and beyond, the California Environmental Justice Alliance calls upon all lawmakers and state-level decision-makers to prioritize clean air and water, and a strong climate future for all Californians—especially for working class residents and communities of color who are most likely to be hit first and worst by the climate crises.
Environmental Justice Champions
Our alliance is proud to highlight three legislative Environmental Justice Champions for 2021. To earn the title of “EJ Champion,” a legislator must work alongside California’s most impacted EJ communities to advance their urgent priorities. Champions don’t tell local residents about the types of solutions that they need. Instead, they work in collaboration with residents to shape policy together.
Our EJ Champions demonstrated their leadership by responding to health crises facing low- income communities and communities of color across the state, visited neighborhoods that have experienced long legacies of pollution and divestment, and partnered with environmental justice advocates and community leaders to create comprehensive and holistic environmental and climate justice legislation.
We are proud to celebrate the following legislators as our 2021 Environmental Justice Champions:
Senator Josh Becker (SD-13, San Mateo County):
Sen. Becker showed strong support for several of CEJA’s environmental justice priorities. The Senator also authored SB 345, a bill which would have required the California Public Utility Commission to establish common definitions for non-energy benefits.
Senator Lena Gonzalez (SD-33):
Sen. Gonzalez authored SB 403 and SB 342, two key environmental justice bills that worked to strengthen and support small water systems and ensure EJ community representation on the board of the South Coast Air Quality Management District, respectively.
Senator Monique Limón (SD-19):
Sen. Limón has been a relentless and consistent ally for environmental justice communities. She is a leader who leaves the door open to meet with community members, advocates, and allies to the EJ movement. Sen Limón earned a score of 103 or an A+ on this year’s EJ scorecard.
CEJA is also proud to recognize the efforts of the following legislators who earned the distinction of Honorable Mentions:
- Senator Connie Leyva: Sen. Leyva continues to provide leadership and consistent support to CEJA members who are working on clean transportation and freight-related issues. She has also served as a strong ally to residents advocating in front of the California Air Resources Board.
- Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia: Asm. Garcia’s support was critical to the success of several of our environmental justice priorities, including the new Community Resilience Hubs program.
Our 2021 EJ scorecard includes a feature called Community Points to recognize those legislators who went above and beyond to partner with the environmental justice community by organizing meetings or attending community events. Here are the legislators who were awarded Community Points by our members:
Sen. Monique Limon (SD-19): 2
Sen. Connie Leyva (SD-20): 2
Sen. Lena Gonzalez (SD-33): 4
Asm. David Chiu (AD-17): 1
Asm. Steve Bennett (AD-37): 1
Asm. Eloise (AD-47): 1
Asm. Eduardo Garcia (AD-56): 2
Asm. Cristina Garcia (AD-58): 3
Asm. Al Muratsuchi (AD-66): 1
Asm. Lorena Gonzalez (AD-80): 1
Progress from the Governor
Governor Newsom’s support and partnership led to significant environmental justice victories in 2021.
In September, CEJA celebrated first-time investments in statewide Community Resilience Centers and renewed commitments to fund the groundbreaking Program. Of the seven CEJA-endorsed bills that made it to his desk, Gov. Newsom signed six into law. The Governor vetoed AB 1487, the Homelessness Prevention Fund, which would have extended eviction protections for already vulnerable communities.
EJ priorities signed by Governor Newsom in 2022:
- SB 403 – Expands the State Water Board’s authority to serve disadvantaged communities.
- AB 838 – Increases inspection requirements for buildings that have substandard structures or lead hazard violations.
- AB 1177 – Sets in motion the creation of a public bank, filling in a critical financial services gap in disadvantaged communities.
- SB 155 – Appropriates funding for a community resilience centers grant program.
- SB 170 – Appropriates funding for the Transformative Climate Communities program.
- SB 158 – Mandates numerous necessary restructurings within state agencies and provides funding to support brownfield cleanups and investigations across California.
Setting the Stage for 2022
In the year ahead, CEJA remains eager to work with state decision-makers to implement transformative policy solutions for all Californians living on the frontlines of poverty and pollution.
In 2022, we hope to to advance the following goals and priorities through the Legislature:
- Ensure Public Health and Safety Protections from Oil and Gas Drilling: After decades of health emergencies, frontline communities can see the end to neighborhood drilling. This past October, the California Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM) introduced a draft rule to create a 3200-foot setback between new oil and gas wells and homes, schools, health care facilities, dormitories, and prisons. Now, residents are organizing to strengthen the rule and strike loopholes, including exemption of existing oil and gas wells.
- Advance Healthy, Affordable, and Resilient Housing for All: As the state works to address the ongoing housing affordability crisis, our alliance will continue to advocate for comprehensive solutions that create healthy, safe, and affordable housing for all. We will continue to oppose harmful CEQA exemptions that expose low-income residents and communities of color to unjust health burdens while maximizing profits for corporate developers and landlords.