On Friday, shortly before California’s kids started knocking on doors seeking treats, CalEPA delivered its own treat to our most polluted and impoverished communities when it released the official Designation of Disadvantaged Communities Pursuant to Senate Bill 535 (De Leon). Low-income communities of color had been awaiting this step (which came a month late), because it allows for funds generated by California’s Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32, Nunez-Pavley) to be targeted where they are most needed. This money will go to weatherization, solar energy, cleaner vehicles, public transit, urban forestry, transit-oriented affordable housing and sustainable communities programs across the state, reducing the emissions that are changing our climate.
As recommended by Coalition for Clean Air and our allies, CalEPA Secretary Matt Rodriquez chose to use CalEnviroScreen as the tool to identify communities burdened by environmental, social and economic problems. The seeds of CalEnviroScreen were planted 10 years ago, when CalEPA adopted an Environmental Justice Action Plan that, among other things, called for the development of guidance to analyze the impacts of multiple pollution sources in California communities. (Coalition for Clean Air President Joe Lyou served on the EJ Advisory Committee for that plan.) After a multi-year public process, CalEPA and its Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment released CalEnviroScreen 1.0 in 2012, and has since update the tool twice, with version 2.0 being adopted this past August. It is this methodology, combining pollution burden and population characteristics, that Secretary Rodriquez has chosen to use for choosing which census tracts are eligible for spending of the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund.
In our comments, the SB 535 Coalition had urged CalEPA to set an inclusive threshold of 25%, meaning that the one quarter of census tracts scoring the highest in CalEnviroScreen would be designated as disadvantaged, qualifying them for the funding directed by SB 535. Secretary Rodriquez agreed, noting that the 25% threshold will “provide a margin of safety that ensures that communities close to the threshold are not inappropriately excluded…while we continue to refine the information and methodologies used to develop CalEnviroScreen.” We agree that further refinement of the tool is called for, and in the meantime we are pleased that projects can now go forward to reduce pollution, provide services and create jobs in underserved areas.