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A California Strategy for a Just Transition to Renewable Energy

By Veronica Wilson - Labor Network for Sustainability, March 1, 2024

Workers in California have allied with environmental, environmental justice, and community groups to move the state closer to a just transition to renewable energy. 

California has a strong movement for Community Choice Aggregation (CCA), which allows municipalities to bargain with electricity suppliers over both price and environmental responsibility. Nine Community Choice Aggregators are united in a joint power procurement agency called California Community Power. 

California’s Workforce and Environmental Justice Alliance has been pushing California Community Power to establish policies to protect workers in the transition to climate-safe energy. In a recent win, Ava Energy in the East Bay adopted these policies – the fourth member of California Community Power to do so. According to Andreas Cluver, Building Trades Council of Alameda County:

Any approach to climate action must also factor in the sustainability of our workforce. By passing this package of policies, Ava Community Energy uplifts local workers while fulfilling its obligation towards responsible environmental stewardship. We look forward to partnering with Ava on these important community projects. 

This marks a pivotal moment for workers and communities as the region looks to ramp up investments in green technology and decarbonization. Ava’s new policies underscore the positive impact CCAs can have on labor standards, environmental stewardship, and community well-being.

Learn more about the Alliance’s impactful work: https://action.greencal.org/action/wej 

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Environmental Justice Equity Principles for Green Hydrogen in California

By various - California Environmental Justice Alliance, October 13, 2023

We represent heavily polluted communities throughout the State of California. Our communities border oil refineries, gas-fired power plants, industrial farming operations, fossil fuel extraction facilities, waste processing centers, ports, transportation corridors and other polluting operations. These cumulative sources of pollution cause a wide range of adverse health outcomes in working class communities of color. Our communities share a common fence with facilities and operations that emit toxins, foul smells, and noise and cause nuisance impacting people’s quality of life at all hours of the day and night.

The State of California intends to expand the use of hydrogen as a fuel, and to this end, we offer these guiding principles, which are essential to respect and protect our communities.

The following principles represent our collective values and positions to support communities as hydrogen energy is utilized across the state.

These principles were developed in 10 workshops and learning sessions for environmental justice partners across California between March and September of 2023. The learning sessions examined the current science, including risks, benefits, and unknowns, and shed light on each stage of the hydrogen cycle, including production, delivery, storage, and use. The workshops allowed our organizations to discuss different perspectives, build consensus, and reflect on how hydrogen may impact our communities. 

We adamantly oppose all non-green hydrogen proposals and projects. We insist that new projects protect communities first and do not perpetuate the injustices that polluting infrastructures impose on fence-line communities today. Each stage of the hydrogen life cycle—production, delivery, storage, and end use—can present unique risks and harms to environmental justice communities and to all Californians.

Discussions about building new green hydrogen infrastructure must involve the community, and its members should be meaningfully engaged. Siting green hydrogen infrastructure should also take into account the cumulative impacts of environmental justice communities and the risks associated with hydrogen.

Green New Deal Justice—from Below

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, Summer 2023

Almost by definition Green New Deal projects simultaneously address climate protection, worker empowerment, and justice. This Commentary will look at Green New Deal projects and networks that emerged from discriminated-against communities and put issues of justice front and center.

While the Green New Deal is often thought of as a program for climate and jobs, justice has been a central element from its very beginning. The initial Green New Deal resolution proposed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez included as a core aim to “promote justice and equity by preventing current and repairing historic oppression to frontline communities.” That included:

  • providing resources, training, and high-quality education, including higher education, to all members of our society, with a focus on frontline communities, so they may be full and equal participants in Green New Deal projects;
  • directing investments to spur economic development, as well as deepen and diversify industry in local and regional economies and build wealth and community ownership, prioritizing high-quality job creation and economic, social, and environmental benefits in frontline communities and deindustrialized communities that may otherwise struggle with the transition;
  • ensuring democratic and participatory processes that are inclusive of and led by frontline communities and workers to plan, implement and administer Green New Deal projects at the local level;
  • obtaining the voluntary, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous peoples for all decisions that affect them, honoring all treaties with Indigenous peoples, and protecting and enforcing the sovereignty and land rights of all Indigenous peoples.[1]

While much of the Green New Deal program has been stymied at the national level, communities, cities, and states have been going ahead to develop their own Green New Deals – what I have called in this series of Commentaries the “Green New Deal from Below.” Typically they involve a strong emphasis on the justice objectives of the Green New Deal. For example:

  • The Boston Green New Deal launched PowerCorps BOS, a green jobs program designed to serve “the dual purpose of creating job opportunities for our young adults” while “protecting our city from the ravages of climate change and enhancing quality of life for all residents.”
  • The Los Angeles City Council passed an ordinance requiring new buildings to be all-electric. Gloria Medina, executive director of SCOPE LA, said this ordinance is “about Black, Brown and Indigenous community members at the forefront. This is their win.” Chelsea Kirk, policy analyst at Strategic Actions for a Just Economy, said, “We think this is a super important, logical first step that allows us to make progress in our net-zero carbon goals as outlined in the Green New Deal.”
  • The Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition designed a participatory process called “Listen, Lead, Share” to write a climate, jobs and justice law “written by communities for communities.” The Illinois Climate and Equitable Jobs Act, described by one journalist as a “Green New Deal for Illinois,” includes a wide range of programs embodying Green New Deal justice programs. For example, it provided that the first fossil fuel plants to be shut down will be those nearest to low-income and marginalized communities; $80 million allocated for Clean Jobs Workforce Network Hubs run by local organizations in 13 of the state’s low-income communities to deliver outreach, recruitment, training, and placement for climate jobs; travel stipends, work clothes, tools, and/or childcare for training and incubator program participants; program to train people currently in prison and place them in clean energy jobs; and a Clean Energy Jobs and Justice Fund to pay for projects in low-income and marginalized communities.

While virtually all Green New Deal from Below-style programs include a strong social justice component, some of them have emerged from and primarily represent the demands of people of color and frontline communities. They are the subject of this Commentary.

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