Defensive Wins, a Disastrous Budget, and a Need for Community-Centered Environmental Justice Solutions
2023 was, in many ways, a disappointing year for environmental justice communities across California. Bold bills like SB 556 (Gonzalez) – which aimed to shift the burden of proof to polluters, holding fossil fuel companies legally accountable for health issues like cancer or high-risk pregnancy suffered by those who live near an oil or gas operation – were drowned in a wave of lobbying money.
While the environmental justice community weathered more than its share of disappointments, there were bright spots. Nearly three times as many lawmakers received an “A” grade on their environmental justice votes compared to our 2022 scorecard. CEJA achieved defensive wins against fossil fuel industry attempts to dilute crucial carbon capture and storage protections, weaken the price gouging penalty, and pass dirty hydrogen legislation.
But it made clear that we cannot afford to simply tweak the status quo in our pursuit of a just and healthy future for all Californians. We need to inspire California lawmakers to lead the state into a future where environmental justice is not an ideal, but a living reality. Read our scorecard to find out if your representatives voted for environmental justice in 2023.
Top of the Class
For over a decade, CEJA has been the only organization that scores the votes and advocacy of California’s lawmakers solely on environmental justice priorities. This year, we’re thrilled to share that seven representatives scored 100% or higher – one of the largest groups we’ve ever seen.
Please join us in congratulating our 2023 Top of the Class on their environmental justice advocacy: Assemblymember Isaac Bryan, Assemblymember Laura Friedman, Senator Lena A. Gonzalez, Senator John Laird, Senator Monique Limón, Senator Lola Smallwood-Cuevas, and Senator Henry Stern.
Environmental Justice Wins in 2023
In 2023, six of the ten bills CEJA supported were signed into law. The remaining four became two-year bills, and none were vetoed outright. The six new laws CEJA helped pass are:
AB 421 (Bryan) – reforming California’s referendum process by closing loopholes often exploited by large corporations.
AB 1167 (Carrillo) – ensuring onshore oil wells cannot be transferred to another owner unless the cost of cleanup is covered.
SBX 1-2 (Skinner) – requiring the oil and gas industry to be more transparent about their practices and be accountable to independent watchdog within the California Energy Commission.
SB 3 (Dodd) – extending protections in the Water Protection Shutoff Act to small community water systems.
SB 253 (Wiener) – requiring corporations with gross revenues of $1 billion to report their full GHG emissions.
SB 567 (Durazo) – closing loopholes in the Tenant Protection Act of 2019 (AB 1482) by adding stronger protections for renters from unjust evictions.
CEJA opposed two bills in 2024. One, AB 1633 (Ting), was unfortunately signed into law, allowing developers to sue local governments before completion of the environmental review process.
We also opposed SB 842 (Bradford), a last-minute gut-and-amend bill that would have undermined the price gouging law by preventing the California Energy Commission from stopping unnecessary refinery maintenance. Signaling a commitment to hold oil and gas companies accountable to protect the public, Gov. Newsom vetoed SB 842.
Disinvestment in Frontline Communities
Unfortunately, Gov. Newsom was not as aligned with our values in other areas. While Gov. Newsom continues to publicly highlight climate as a priority, his budgetary commitments have yet to materialize. Environmental justice priorities such as Transformative Climate Communities and Community Resilience Centers, which were initially included in the $54 billion climate budget, were promptly cut once the state faced a budget deficit.
This fails to protect environmental justice communities and communities of color, which leaves critical environmental justice programs facing a dead end as the climate crisis accelerates and the scale of need is large and increasing.
Looking Forward to 2024
As CEJA navigates the aftermath of the legislative session, our focus shifts toward resilience and strategic planning. The past session’s challenges emphasize the need for sustained advocacy, strong collaboration, and a proactive approach to championing environmental justice.
CEJA remains committed to its mission to imagine and pass historic environmental justice policies to transform our communities. We are adamant in our defense of previous victories, such as fighting to keep the 3,200-foot oil and gas safety buffer zone law, appearing on the ballot in November 2024. We are determined to stop dangerous false solutions from the fossil fuel industry and support community-driven visions like Transformative Climate Communities and Community Resilience Centers.