The impacts of climate change increasingly affect communities across California. Low-income rural communities face even greater challenges adapting to these changes due to economic disadvantage, marginalization, isolation, and other factors. In 2006, the California legislature passed AB 32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act, to mitigate climate impacts by reducing greenhouse gas emissions across the state to 1990 levels by the year 2020; and in 2016 Governor Brown signed SB 32, extending greenhouse gas reduction targets to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. This monumental legislation also led to the creation of California’s Cap-and-Trade system and the subsequent Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF) generated by the auction of cap-and-trade allowances.
In 2012, the legislature passed a companion bill, SB 535, requiring that 25% of GGRF money benefit Disadvantaged Communities (DACs) and low-income communities, to be defined based on geographic, socioeconomic, public health, and environmental hazard criteria, with at least 10% of those funds spent directly within DACs. Unfortunately the tool used to define these communities, CalEnviroScreen 3.0, focuses more on pollution hazards and less on the other factors, resulting in the complete absence of eligible DACs in the Sierra, the North Coast, and many inland rural areas (see map below).
To learn more, download Sierra CAMP's Disadvantaged Communities in the Sierra Nevada Region fact sheet.
What is CalEnviroScreen?
California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA), the agency charged with defining DACs for the purposes of the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, worked with the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) to re-purpose an existing tool called CalEnviroScreen to identify and rank DACs across the state. The CalEnviroScreen tool was originally created to highlight areas with multiple pollution burdens for purposes of regulatory compliance or clean-up actions. As a result, the analysis relies heavily on pollution factors, which are not the only impacts affecting disadvantaged communities or representing climate burden, and less-so on income or other indicators of relative disadvantage (see proposed indicators for CalEnviroScreen 3.0 listed in our fact sheet).The most up-to-date version of the tool released in January 2017, CalEnviroscreen 3.0, unfortunately does not include revisions that reflect these concerns.
Downsides of CalEnviroScreen
Due to the preponderance of urban-focused pollution criteria across all versions of the tool to date, the CalEnviroScreen methodology has consistently excluded most of rural California, including the entire Sierra Nevada-southern Cascade region, as evidenced by the map below. As a result, Sierra communities are not eligible to apply for the minimum 25 % portion of GGRF funds mandated to support disadvantaged communities, despite the fact that many communities in this region are indeed disadvantaged based on geographic isolation, low incomes, public health risks, lack of services, and other factors.
In addition, GGRF administering agencies have the discretion to allocate more than the mandated minimum 25% for DACs, which leaves even less funding for non-DAC-eligible communities and residents living in the rest of the state. As of December 2015, for example, fully half of the $912 million administered through GGRF benefitted just the areas shown in red on the map.
A statewide program of this magnitude must be made to work in the context of California’s geographic, economic, and resource diversity, including reaching other underserved areas that have the ability and desire to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through local action, as contemplated in the original AB 32. Otherwise, we risk delaying much-needed progress on climate mitigation and adaptation in many rural and low-income communities and compromising the state’s ability to meet its aggressive climate goals in the coming decades.
Check out our Disadvantaged Communities in the Sierra Nevada Region fact sheet to learn more about our concerns with CalEnviroScreen and possible alternatives.