Since 2012, California has generated billions of dollars from its market-based green- house gas emissions reduction program, commonly known as Cap-and-Trade. These revenues, deposited in the state’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF), must be invest- ed in projects that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions while maximizing benefits for disadvantaged communities and households. SB 535 (de León 2012), as amended by AB 1550 (Gomez 2016), requires at least thirty-five percent of these revenues to be invested in projects that benefit disadvantaged community residents and low-income households and communities. Implementing these statutory requirements has been the work of a coalition of policy-advocacy and organizing groups, who have too often seen public in- vestment in environmental justice communities fail to meet the needs of low-income residents of color—or worse yet, actually harm them. This article presents the“ disadvantaged community benefits” framework that this coalition developed, which is now incorporated in large part into statewide guidelines on climate investments. The frame- work offers a four-step process for evaluating whether a project meaningfully benefits a disadvantaged community: (1) whether a project meets an important need identified by underserved residents (2) in a way that provides them a significant benefit and (3) targets its benefits primarily to low-income people while (4) avoiding substantial burdens on a disadvantaged community. This article discusses the genesis of this framework and its importance in enabling local residents to shape investment decisions in their communities, and then assesses a GGRF investment in affordable housing according to this framework. A key lesson of California’s experience in directing climate investments to benefit disadvantaged communities is that the same investments that promote the state’s climate goals are also helping to tackle the crisis of extreme inequality.
About the Authors
Chelsea Tu is a staff attorney at Public Advocates and leads the organization’s work on statewide climate-justice advocacy.
As a managing attorney for Public Advocates, Richard Marcantonio directs the transportation, housing, and climate-justice advocacy and litigation team.