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California to Direct Clean Energy Funds to Low-Income Communities

By Vien Truong

In September 30, California took a big step toward giving all residents access to clean energy and green jobs when Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 535 and AB 1532 into law. The new laws—which are the result of a four-year campaign by a broad-based coalition—will invest hundreds of millions of dollars towards greening underserved areas and in the process, support small businesses and bring clean energy jobs to disadvantaged communities each year.

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Annie Loya: My Story

My family is from a small rural town, Pearl Lagoon, in Nicaragua. At the time of our departure from Nicaragua, the country was in deep conflict—fighting the Reagan-backed Contra and Sandinista war. At the root of this war was a country trying to win social equity and maintain its natural wealth vs. the predator who wanted to gain control for its own economic ambitions. All the while, American media spun it as the United States trying to save yet another democratically challenged region.

We moved to East Palo Alto, California. A town that came into being by the driving force of its residents. There was no other city at the time that truly accepted people of color, so they created their own. It was a small start but a grand effort and message of self-determination. East Palo Alto inherited many burdens: a chemical waste plant, a county dump, land that sits on top of a water bed, and power lines over the city that emit electromagnetic waves. East Palo Alto looks very different from the neighboring city of Palo Alto. Palo Alto bears large green trees, smoothly paved streets, many parks and open spaces, grocery stores, and recreational spaces.

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Energy Policy and Inner City Abandonment

Few people realize the price inner cities have paid for our national love affair with the automobile. But the evidence of devastation is not hard to find. White flight to the metropolitan fringe, driven in part by racism, is linked to destruction of human resources in the metropolitan core, to waste of petroleum energy, pollution of air and water, and degradation of urban biological resources. But older urban neighborhoods can help lead the way to more sustainable cities and suburbs...

The increasing concentration of poverty in the nation’s largest metropolitan areas is linked to the practice of investment in suburban sprawl, and divestment from energy-efficient, inner city communities where people of color live. 

Transportation and energy issues are of critical concern to low income neighborhoods and practitioners of community-based economic development, but advocacy systems for energy and transportation issues are almost non-existent. These systems should be developed. Community development corporations in low-income and minority communities are well positioned to provide a new and potentially powerful national leadership in advocating energy- and transportation-efficient patterns for urban neighborhoods.

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AB32: Energy Retrofits

Voices of Climate Justice

AB32: Energy Retrofits for Low-Income Households

California’s Global Warming Solutions Act (AB32) aims to reduce carbon emissions by 30 percent, bringing them back down to 1990 levels by 2020.

The California Air Resources Board (CARB), an 11-member body appointed by the governor, is the lead agency for implementing the legislation. After Gov. Schwarzenegger signed the bill in 2006, CARB spent two years working on a “Scoping Plan” that details the means for meeting the measure’s ambitious emissions-reduction targets. The recommendations in the plan will be fashioned into regulations subject to the agency’s usual rule-making process.

CARB focused on market-based mechanisms, explaining that “The development of a California cap-and-trade program that links with other Western Climate Initiative partner programs to create a regional market system is a central feature of the overall recommendation.”[1] But its plan also included recommendations for green buildings, which opens the door to local projects that can increase social equity as well as reduce emissions. These projects will be competing against those that benefit larger, better-funded stakeholders—with decisions made by an agency that is not readily held accountable to diverse communities.

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Energy Costs, Conservation, and the Poor

Meeting monthly payments for household energy use is increasingly difficult for families with incomes at or near the poverty level. While the system of extraction, generation, and distribution of energy in usable form has many other economic and environmental impacts on most sectors of society, for the poor, the monthly bill is this system's most direct consequence. Living in (often forced to rent) the least efficient housing in the country, the typical poor household faces energy costs of up to 25% of its total income. This household has but two options: reduce consumption and/or look for aid in meeting unmanageable energy costs. Federal funding for both of these options, however, has been dwindling since the mid-80s; more and more responsibility for controlling these costs to the poor falls on local governments and groups.

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