Climate Change Reforms Must Continue, But More is Needed to Protect Working Class Communities

As Pope Francis prepares to visit the United States next month, the media's fixation on him is continuing to increase. This is especially true in California, where the Pope's acknowledgement of human impact on climate change, as articulated in his anticipated encyclical, has created a substantial stir. That is no surprise to Californians, as our record-breaking drought grinds on and we look for new, innovative ways to save water. It's also no surprise to Latinos, in California and beyond, as our communities are on the front lines of climate change -- from the droughts of the southwest to the flood prone regions of South Florida.

And when Governor Jerry Brown visited the Vatican a few weeks ago, we called on the governor to not only support the Pope's urgent call to protect our climate, but to do it in a way that ensures that we do it upholding our highest values of economic and environmental justice.

But there are legislative solutions on the table here in California that could help alleviate some of the irreparable damage inflicted by decades of pollution and climate change. SB 350, SB 32 and AB 1288 -- three bills currently before the California legislature -- would curb the use of toxic fossil fuels responsible for our increasingly unstable weather and rising seas. Together, and with a few adjustments, these bills would also help right the wrongs done to so many low-income and Latino communities, who have endured decades of sky-high cancer rates and asthma from fossil fuel pollution. Lastly, SB 350, SB 32 and AB 1288 would stimulate California's recovering economy and expand the green economy through job creation and climate friendly investments. However, these three bills must work in tandem in order to impact the lives of Californians. SB 350 would provide direct action against climate change, while SB 32 and AB 1288 would continue cap and trade policies, but only through the implementation of central corrective and equity measures.

Despite this potential progress, politics are getting in the way of moving forward, and the three bills are threatened by powerful corporate interest.

It is The Clean Energy and Pollution Reduction Act of 2015 (SB 350) that would ensure any reductions in pollution and emissions also benefit the low-income communities, many Latino, that have been most harmed by our current dirty energy system.

SB 350 is the indispensable leg of California's climate legislative package that attacks the environmental crisis without continuing the government-sanctioned ravaging of poor communities by the fossil fuel industry. SB 350 will improve California's overall public health, especially for those in low income and Latino communities, by reducing oil dependence and regulating climate-changing emissions. More importantly, this bill will help create new jobs and economic opportunities in low-income communities, outdoing any potential losses from a dying fossil fuels industry. Low-income communities need an innovative, more sustainable economy, one where equity, health and economic development are central goals, and SB 350 will help us achieve it.

Senator Kevin De Leon's SB 350 does three things: increase California's procurement of electricity from renewable sources from 33 percent to 50 percent; reduce today's petroleum use in cars and trucks by up to 50 percent; and double energy efficiency, all by 2030. The resulting surge in green jobs from the engineering and manufacturing of solar panels to their installation will benefit all Californians.

The current cap and trade legislation, encapsulated by SB32 and AB 1288, simply don't do enough to dig us out of the decades of devastation polluters have left in many California communities. More needs to be done on SB 32 and AB 1288 to ensure those hardest hit by pollution are protected -- specifically by requiring emissions reductions take place right where pollution is generated. So, if a fossil fuel powered plant is polluting an inner city community or small town, we want the emissions reductions to stop right at the source so that the local community benefits right away. Planting trees hundreds of miles away simply doesn't cut it.

We have an unprecedented opportunity to create a climate model that not only attacks the climate change crisis, but also does so in a way that elevates our values.

We can't underestimate our opposition on this. The fossil fuel industry and their allies in California are incensed by this legislation -- but that shouldn't surprise us. This industry has made billions while sticking us with the bill for their destruction.

Sacrificing those in working class communities and people color is no longer an option, which is why all elected officials, including business friendly political leaders need to support all three bills -- SB 350, SB 32 and AB 1288 -- in order to ensure that these principles are not compromised and that a new, green economy benefits all Californians.