2014 California Budget A Win for the Environment and Disadvantaged Communities

Photo by Steve Rhodes  

California Governor Jerry Brown released his budget this week, and we are encouraged to see some good news for the environment.  The plan includes details on expenditures for revenue generated under California’s cap-and-trade program—the program that was designed to reduce carbon emissions via California’s global warming law, AB 32.  The bulk of the money goes towards transportation (most significantly to high-speed rail), as well as additional funding for clean energy, energy efficiency, and natural resource and waste diversion.

Overall, Governor Brown plans to spend the cap-and-trade proceeds (about $850 million) on clean energy investments meant to combat global warming. $225 million of this money will go to clean energy solutions for disadvantaged communities, a move in line with the goals of Senate Bill 535 (de Leon).  The de Leon legislation was conceptualized by Global Green in 2007 just after AB 32 was adopted.  We recognized that it was critical early on to establish a place holder for revenue allocation to California’s most disadvantaged communities from whatever revenue raising mechanism was adopted by the CA Air Resources Board.  Senator de Leon agreed, and along with a strong coalition of environmental groups and others, carried this concept over the finish line successfully by convincing the legislature and the Governor to sign this bill into law in 2012.

SB 535 builds on Global Green’s earlier work to incorporate language in AB 32 that ensured that low-income communities would benefit from the greenhouse gas reduction plan established by the State.  We championed the so-called “Community Empowerment” amendment language in Section 38565 of the legislation with the intent of providing a method for low- and moderate-income communities to directly participate in and benefit from their actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

SB 535 requires 10% of the funds to go to projects in disadvantaged communities and 25% towards projects that benefit those same communities. Some of the money targeted at disadvantaged communities includes $80 million for energy upgrades and weatherization measures in low-income homes, through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. It also includes investments in clean transportation and transit-oriented development (with $200 million invested in low carbon transportation), another welcome measure as low-income populations are disproportionally affected by dirty freight equipment and vehicle emissions. These investments should improve air and water quality, and create jobs. It will be important to follow these funds and track the benefits afforded to these communities.

Also part of the budget plan is a commitment from Governor Brown to pay back $100 million of the $500 million he previously borrowed from the cap-and-trade revenue funds. This is welcome news, as in May 2013, Global Green and other environmental groups balked when the Governor announced he would take $500 million in cap-and-trade revenue dollars, meant to be invested in greenhouse gas reduction policies, and put it into the general fund. The Governor promises to pay back the remaining $400 million within the next few years. While this is a good start, it is critical that a concrete plan and timeline to pay back the outstanding funds be developed.

Other environmental issues addressed with the cap-and-trade revenues in the budget include investments in sustainable communities ($100M), green State buildings ($20M), agricultural efficiency ($20M), wetlands restoration ($30M), fire prevention and urban forestry ($50), and waste diversion ($30). We applaud the Governor for committing a significant portion of money to programs that support clean energy, energy efficiency, increased bicycle transportation, and support for disadvantaged communities.