justice & equity in the Climate and Community Protection Act

Historically, disadvantaged communities have been disproportionately impacted by fossil fuel pollution and poor air quality — and should be at the forefront of the transition to renewable energy. As utility ratepayers, members of these communities have financially contributed to existing energy efficiency and renewable energy programs in New York State, only to encounter barriers to their own participation or programs that ultimately fail at systematically addressing the root causes of energy insecurity and energy poverty.

The Climate and Community Protection Act includes several key provisions to  support an equitable transition to a just and clean energy economy. These provisions were developed by groups in the coalition that represent disadvantaged communities around the state from Buffalo to Brooklyn, with input from national experts and broader New York stakeholders.

Before diving in, it is crucially important to emphasize that the work of NY Renews is informed by the Jemez Principles of Democratic Organizing. Principles 3 & 4 of the Jemez Principles state: “let people speak for themselves”, and “work together in solidarity and mutuality”. As stated above, many of the organizations involved in developing the NY Renews policy platform and the CCPA represent, work in, and are members of disadvantaged communities—i.e., low-income and/or communities of color. These organizations bring profound and specific policy expertise to the NY Renews coalition, and have dedicated their lives and their work to fighting for the interests of their communities. Working in solidarity and mutuality requires that these organizations be able to speak for their own interests.

Equity elements in the CCPA

  1. Mandate that state agencies develop and apply an ‘equity screen’ along with the bill’s ‘climate screen’. The equity screen would be a set of principles and policies that guide agency decision-making to ensure that they consider equity outcomes alongside climate outcomes, including mapping targeted communities, developing and tracking metrics of progress, and requiring agencies to promulgate regulations in line with the equity screen and to involve meaningful public input.

  2. Mandate that emission reduction requirements also address co-pollutants, including criteria pollutants and fine particulate matter. Additionally, the law would require that all state agencies in all decision making not disproportionately burden disadvantaged communities, and prioritize reductions of greenhouse  gas emissions and co-pollutants in  disadvantaged communities.

  3. 40% Mandate: Mandate that at least 40% of funds from Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative  revenue, Clean Energy Fund proceeds, and other climate-related funding streams (including any future market-based mechanisms) prioritize direct benefits to frontline, environmental justice, and disadvantaged communities.

  4. Create a Working Group to oversee these elements. This section directs NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to create the Working Group, defines its membership, and lists its duties. The group will include representatives from environmental justice communities, DEC, the NYS Department of Health, and the NYS Department of Labor. The working group will establish criteria to identify disadvantaged communities for co-pollutant reductions, greenhouse gas emissions reductions, and investment opportunities. Disadvantaged communities will be identified based on geographic, public health, environmental hazard, and socioeconomic criteria.

  5. Requires efforts to assess barriers to accessing renewable energy, energy efficiency, weatherization, zero- and low-emission transportation, and adaptation.

  6. Training and Labor Standards This section directs DEC and all other departments, agencies, and authorities implementing this act to attach labor and training standards whenever possible, including to all public work as well as work benefiting from subsidies or other public support. These standards would include wage level (prevailing rates for both construction and operations and maintenance), apprenticeship utilization, and training standards.

What do we mean by disadvantaged communities?

The Climate and Community Protection Act draws on the California Enviro-Screen System, as well as many past efforts by coalition partners in New York to improve environmental justice and service for low-income New Yorkers. The bill prioritizes communities that are disadvantaged, and directs the state to create a disadvantaged communities/environmental justice working group to work with regulators to ensure that the equity screen and mapping include:

  • Areas burdened by cumulative environmental pollution and other hazards that can lead to negative public health effects.

  • Areas with concentrations of people that are of low income, high unemployment, high rent burden, low levels of home ownership, low level of educational attainment, or members of groups that have historically experienced discrimination on the basis of race or ethnicity.

  • Areas vulnerable to the impacts of climate change such as flooding, storm surges, and urban heat island effect.

  • Areas that are economically reliant on energy intensive and fossil fuel based industries.

One incidental benefit is that it would encourage agencies that are often in conflict over definitions and program processes to develop definitional alignment relevant to the designation of disadvantaged communities. Some variations in the criteria currently in use at the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA), utilities, and other programs lead to program-level inconsistencies and incoherence.

Why 40%?

The mandate that 40% of state climate investment go to disadvantaged communities was determined based on a review of equity policies around the country, and in particular the experience in California of developing and winning the California Enviro-Screen and mandatory targeted spending in environmental justice communities. This model was identified as possibly the most clear and effective way to draw funds to communities that has been arrived at nationally. In practice in California, once the funds began to actually be spent pursuant to the legislation, even more than the legal minimum were spent in and to benefit disadvantaged communities, because the impact of those investments was highest where pollution was worst on the ground. 51% of the $912 million of implementation funding flowing from SB 535/Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (as of early 2016) has gone to projects or investments benefiting disadvantaged communities, and 39% for projects in those communities. The corresponding goals set in the legislation were 25% and 10%. A summary of these impacts is here.

We proceeded from there to do substantial demographic analysis and mapping, as well as hold conversations with policy experts including economists and advocates, and engage partners in the NY Renews coalition.  

The coalition assessed various policy models around the country and set a goal of having a significant proportion of funds directed toward  projects that benefit disadvantaged communities. In reviewing possible targets and spending priorities, it was clear that to meet the needs of New York’s disadvantaged communities massive investment was needed. The NY Renews coalition settled on a minimum of 40% based on analysis that this was a level of spending proportional to the targeted population:

  • The 2010 US Census shows that New York State’s population of color is 41.7% of the total population.

  • The 2014 American Community Survey shows that about 43.7% of households in New York State earn an annual income below $50,000.

  • Disadvantaged communities across the State experience disproportionate public health issues. For example, a report by the NYS Department of Health shows that low-income communities and communities of color experience disproportionately higher rates of asthma.

  • Generally, there is an overlap between communities that are low-income communities of color, and host communities for polluting infrastructure. In our initial research almost all major emitters were located in communities covered by the targeted demographics.

Additionally there were important strategic reasons to ensure that at least 40% of funding goes to the targeted communities:

  • New York currently has no enforceable standard in law, while advocates in California fought for a decade to get 25% mandated by law.

  • A recent study assessing the environmental justice implications of the Clean Power Plan, found that polluting facilities, environmental hazards, and other unwanted land uses are more likely to be sited in communities of color and low-income communities, causing disproportionate exposure to air pollution. Given the correlation between disadvantaged communities and the location of polluting facilities, prioritizing investments in these communities is an effective and equitable climate action strategy.

  • A recent report found that the California cap-and-trade program has not resulted in emission reductions in environmental justice communities. This underlines the need to connect emission reduction efforts with direct benefits for those already most burdened by cumulative environmental and economic burdens.

  • Coalition members experience with a host of programs made clear that without a clear mandate and high threshold disadvantaged communities which face additional burdens to participation would continue to be left out of the benefits of the new energy economy.

  • Shifting resources is always a controversial choice with deep real world impacts on communities around the state. Strategically, 40% was a compromise bounded by the demographic parameters for disadvantaged communities listed above and the differing priorities of various coalition members. Within the coalition, clean energy advocates did not want to lock in 50% or more, and environmental justice and community groups knew that 25% is inadequate to the need, so a health compromise was reached.

  • The 40% goal aligns with the equity demands of at least one other statewide network of grassroots base-building and advocacy organizations, the NY Energy Democracy Alliance (NYEDA). In the context of Governor Cuomo’s Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) regulatory agenda, NYEDA members have been calling on the PSC and NYSERDA to allocate 40% of the new Clean Energy Fund (CEF) for investments that directly benefit disadvantaged communities. Its notable that the PSC recently approved NYSERDA’s proposal to allocate 30% of funds from the largest CEF investment portfolio to programs serving low-to-moderate income communities.