Governor Brown Signs Landmark Bills to Bring Clean Energy and Green Jobs to Disadvantaged Communities

Written by: Vien Truong and Phong-Chau Nguyen, The Greenlining Institute

On Sept. 30, California Gov. Jerry Brown took a big step toward giving all Californians access to clean energy and green jobs by signing SB 535 and AB 1532 into law.  These bills will invest hundreds of millions of dollars to provide clean energy to disadvantaged communities, support small businesses and create jobs in the environmental sector.  Brown’s signing of these two bills represents a major victory for environmental policy and community advocates, who have spent years working to bring relief to polluted and economically disadvantaged communities. 

The new legislation builds on existing law. In 2006, lawmakers passed AB 32, which requires California to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020.  To achieve this goal, the California Air Resources Board established a cap-and-trade program, which limits the amount of air pollution that a power plant or industrial polluter can produce, and requires these facilities to purchase credits to exceed the pollution cap.  This program is projected to bring in $1 billion in revenue for the state next year.

AB 32 was groundbreaking, but it fell short in addressing the harmful effects of air pollution on California’s low-income communities. These neighborhoods are often located near power plants and industrial facilities, leading residents to suffer first and worst from health problems caused by pollution.  AB 32 recognized that these communities were especially impacted by air pollution, but provided little direction or guidance on fixing these disparities.  So The Greenlining Institute joined with a coalition of environmental and civil rights organizations to pass legislation designed to assure that underserved communities can reap the benefits of AB 32, both in reduced pollution and clean energy jobs. 

SB 535 was introduced by Senator Kevin De León (D-Los Angeles) and co-sponsored by the Greenlining Institute, the Coalition for Clean Air, the NAACP, the Ella Baker Center the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Asian Pacific Environmental Network The bill requires the California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) to identify the communities that have been most harmed by pollution and requires that 25 percent of California’s cap-and-trade revenue be spent on projects that will benefit these disadvantaged communities.

This investment will make a real difference in struggling communities, funding projects that will bring cleaner air and good jobs to neighborhoods in urgent need of both. Projects could include solar panel installation, home energy efficiency upgrades, and investments in low-emissions transportation, among other possibilities.

Furthermore, SB 535 guarantees that at least 10 percent of the state’s cap-and-trade revenue be used to fund clean energy projects directly located in these communities.  Since California’s cap-and-trade revenue is projected at $1 billion next year, this could mean $100 million for green projects in low-income and disadvantaged communities in just the first year. 

AB 1532, introduced by Assembly Speaker John Pérez (D-Los Angeles) works in tandem with SB 535.  It increases transparency and assures that the money spent to reduce greenhouse gases is spent to maximize economic, environmental, and public health benefits to the state.  This will provide clean energy jobs and allows members of disadvantaged communities to take part in the green economy.

Together, these bills will improve the quality of life for California’s disadvantaged communities by investing in energy efficiency and creating a trained green workforce, assuring that the people who need the most relief from air pollution will finally have a chance at a cleaner future. SB 535 and AB 1532 will provide funds that can be used to improve the quality of air in polluted communities and provide new technology that will reduce energy consumption.  This will bring new, clean energy jobs into these communities and stimulate the training of a skilled workforce.  These bills will help make sure that low-income communities are not left behind in California’s pursuit of a healthy and sustainable environment.

This victory couldn’t have been accomplished without the collaboration of the countless cities, unions, conservation groups, advocacy organizations, business associations, community members, and activists who joined together to support this legislation, as well as the crucial efforts and leadership of Sen. De León and Speaker Pérez.  These bills are victories for California’s communities because they were backed by the voices of the communities – the voices of those who have been most harmed by pollution.

We commend Gov. Brown for signing SB 535 and AB 1532 and we are incredibly appreciative of all the individuals and organizations who took the time to call, email, and send letters in support of these bills. This has been a long battle, but we won because of the incredible coalition that came together.

That said, there is still much work to do. As we move forward in implementing these bills, it is crucial that the governor, legislators and regulators continue to hear the voices of California’s communities to assure that these funds go where they are needed most. We will need to show our continued support for greening low-income communities and advocate for the funds to make tangible projects real.  We will need to remain united in pursuing environmental justice and assuring equitable access to jobs in the green economy.  And most importantly, we will need to show that California’s disadvantaged communities have voices that belong at the decision-making table.

Celebration is definitely in order, but the work will go on.

Read the text of SB 535 here: 

Read the text of AB 1532 here: 

Vien Truong is the Green Assets Director and Phong-Chau Nguyen is a Legal Intern at The Greenlining Institute,

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