Climate equity: with clean air for all

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?

Perhaps your dream home includes grand views of a congested freeway and the not-so-sweet smell of diesel exhaust in the morning? How does convenient access to a refinery or railyard sound? I hear living next to oil wells is the new hot trend!

Of course – no one wants to live by these facilities. Yet, communities have lived alongside these and other sources of extreme pollution for generations. It’s natural to wonder, “Who would want to live there?”

The truth is many of these families don’t have a choice. Historically, low income earners and people of color were effectively forced to live in undesirable areas through “redlining” and other discriminatory policies. While housing discrimination is illegal today (though it still occurs), many people lack access to generational wealth and gainful employment, limiting their earning potential and housing options. Additionally, California’s infamous cost of living, coupled with the need to have convenient access to work and family, often push people to live in polluted communities.

Cleaning up California’s polluted neighborhoods is vitally important, but it’s not going to happen on its own. As such, the Coalition for Clean Air and our partners in the California Climate Equity Coalition (CCEC) and the Charge Ahead Coalition have pushed lawmakers and regulators to prioritize climate equity – using California’s climate policies and investments to clean up our most environmentally-burdened communities.

The push for climate equity is happening on multiple fronts – the California State Budget, regulation and legislation:

  • The State Budget: Every year, CCA and our allies actively lobby the Governor’s office and the State Legislature to use climate investments to reduce both harmful air pollution as well as greenhouse gas emissions. Just this year alone, CCEC’s efforts helped protect low-income weatherization, urban greening and urban forestry programs from being zeroed-out. Additionally, our efforts helped increase funding for clean truck and bus incentives and the Transformative Climate Communities program.
  • Regulation: CCA, CCEC and Charge Ahead are actively involved in supporting regulations and guidelines that promote equity. For example, CCEC is pushing the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to include in its climate investments guidelines to avoid unintended harms (i.e. displacing communities), identify community needs when evaluating projects and show tangible community jobs benefits. Additionally, Charge Ahead has worked with local air regulators and CARB to eliminate unnecessary barriers for programs that help residents in disadvantaged communities and low-income earners to switch to electric vehicles.
  • Legislation: Since 2012, CCA and our allies have successfully pushed for bills like SB 535 (de León, 2012) and AB 1550 (Gomez, 2016), which require a significant portion of carbon auction revenues to be invested in disadvantaged communities and low-income households. We actively support a vigorous implementation of the Community Air Protection Program under AB 617 (C. Garcia, 2017), which will help improve the air quality in extremely polluted communities. Additionally, Charge Ahead successfully supported SB 1275 (de León, 2014), and has actively been part of the implementation of AB 630 (Cooper, 2017), which strengthens and expands vehicle scrap-and-replace programs like Replace Your Ride and Tune In and Tune Up.

While this may seem like a lot (and it is), it pales in comparison to the amount of work needed to ensure climate equity for all Californians. CCA and our allies are running up against limited state resources, competing special interests and decades of bad policy. However, your zip code should not determine the quality of air that you breathe. Fortunately, California’s commitment towards climate equity is set in law; and we will be there to ensure it’s implemented effectively and fully.

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