How did California’s legislators score on environmental justice?

When the California Environmental Justice Alliance released our first Environmental Justice Scorecard in 2013 to look at how our legislators were voting on environmental policies that impact the people most impacted by environmental hazards — low-income communities and communities of color — we did not have a single perfect score.

We’re proud to release our newest Environmental Justice Scorecard for the 2015 legislative session and congratulate all the 37 legislators who received perfect scores. We’re glad to see that more legislators scored in the 90–100% range in 2015 than in the past two years combined.

Our new scorecard reflects how environmentalism is being redefined in California where people of color are the new majority.

There is a growing awareness among decision-makers about the need to ensure equity is at the center of environmental policy to address the health and quality of life impacts that are so critical in our communities. We are showing through our votes and our voices that our communities and our issues matter, even when we are up against some major players like the big oil lobby.

2015 was a year when industry flexed its muscle. The oil lobby spent $11 million from July to September alone, fighting off ambitious attempts to reduce our state’s dependency on fossil fuels. As a coalition of community-based organizations working directly in communities of color, we cannot sit on the sidelines as communities of color are used as a wedge for the interests of industry lobbyists.

One new feature in our scorecard is a map showing the overlap of environmental justice communities (defined as the top 25% census tracts according to CalEPA’s CalEnviroScreen 2.0) with legislative districts of Moderate Democrats who advocated for removal of the SB 350 oil reduction provision.

We found almost every district, in both the Senate and the Assembly, has highly impacted communities. 84% of all Assembly districts and 92% of all Senate districts have some portion of a highly impacted community in their district. Legislators can no longer say that environmental justice does not impact their district.

It is unacceptable for Moderate Democrats, many of whom represent predominantly people of color that are most impacted by climate and dirty energy, to hide behind concerns over equity and fail to take stands on measures that would undoubtedly improve the health and quality of life for their constituents.

Our scorecard tackles a key question: are legislators of color voting to advance the needs of communities of color?

We analyzed the overall scores of Asian Pacific Islander, Black, and Latino Caucuses, finding that legislators of color, especially members of these caucuses, have more work to do to align with the needs of low-income and communities of color that often helped get them elected.

People of color are 60% of California’s total population, and comprise 89% of the people living in the top 10% most polluted areas of California. 1 in 3 Latinos and 1 in 4 African American live in overburdened communities. Given this reality, legislators of color have a special responsibility to represent the needs of California’s diverse population.

The release of our scorecard comes on the heels of ground-breaking policy victories that are truly a testament to the growing power of the environmental justice movement.

In 2015, our members helped pass 5 new environmental justice bills (SB 350, SB 673, AB 1071, AB 1288, AB 693) that help fight climate change, reduce toxic exposures of residents living near hazardous facilities, increase resources to areas overburdened by environmental violations, diversify the California Air Resources Board, and create the largest solar program for low-income tenants in the state.

These policies are just the start of what our state must accomplish to address long-standing pollution burdens in low-income communities and communities of color and we’re ready to see improvements directly in communities that need it the most.

Overall, our Environmental Justice Scorecard 2015 shows that environmental justice must be a priority for our legislators to see improvements in the health and quality of life for all Californians.

CEJA is a statewide coalition of grassroots, environmental justice organizations.

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