Diana Madson
Diana Madson
Government Affairs Director

Is California Recognizing Disadvantaged Communities in the Sierra?

Today Sierra CAMP published a policy memo exploring the state’s methods for defining and recognizing disadvantaged communities (DAC) in California and how that affects climate change funding. For those of you familiar with Sierra CAMP, our past analyses, and our comment letters, it will be no surprise to you that the low-income areas of the Sierra are all too often overlooked, especially when the most prominent DAC measurement tool, CalEnviroScreen, is used.

We release this report today in advance of the close of the public comment period for the latest iteration of CalEnviroScreen (CalEnviroScreen 3.0), which Sierra CAMP will be commenting on.

Disadvantaged Communities in the Sierra Nevada Region

The impacts of climate change increasingly affect communities across California. Low-income rural communities face even greater challenges adapting to these changes due to economic disadvantage, marginalization, isolation, and other factors. In 2006, the California legislature passed AB 32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act, to mitigate climate impacts by reducing greenhouse gas emissions across the state to 1990 levels by the year 2020; and in 2016 Governor Brown signed SB 32, extending greenhouse gas reduction targets to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. This monumental legislation also led to the creation of California’s Cap-and-Trade system and the subsequent Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF) generated by the auction of cap-and-trade allowances.

In 2012, the legislature passed a companion bill, SB 535, requiring that 25% of GGRF money benefit Disadvantaged Communities (DACs) and low-income communities, to be defined based on geographic, socioeconomic, public health, and environmental hazard criteria, with at least 10% of those funds spent directly within DACs. Unfortunately the tool used to define these communities, CalEnviroScreen 2.0, focuses more on pollution hazards and less on the other factors, resulting in the complete absence of eligible DACs in the Sierra, the North Coast, and many inland rural areas (see map below).

What is CalEnviroScreen?

CAMP WhatisCalEnviroScreen









Downsides of CalEnviroScreen

Due to the preponderance of urban-focused pollution criteria across all versions of the tool to date, the CalEnviroScreen methodology has consistently excluded most of rural California, including the entire Sierra Nevada-southern Cascade region, as evidenced by the map below. As a result, Sierra-Cascade communities are not eligible to apply for the minimum 25 % portion of GGRF funds mandated to support disadvantaged communities, despite the fact that many communities in this region are indeed disadvantaged based on geographic isolation, low incomes, public health risks, lack of services, and other factors.

In addition, GGRF administering agencies have the discretion to allocate more than the mandated minimum 25% for DACs, which leaves even less funding for non-DAC-eligible communities and residents living in the rest of the state. As of December 2015, for example, fully half of the $912 million administered through GGRF benefitted just the areas shown in red on the map.

A statewide program of this magnitude must be made to work in the context of California’s geographic, economic, and resource diversity, including reaching other underserved areas that have the ability and desire to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through local action, as contemplated in the original AB 32. Otherwise, we risk delaying much-needed progress on climate mitigation and adaptation in many rural and low-income communities and compromising the state’s ability to meet its aggressive climate goals in the coming decades.

Check out our policy report to learn more about our concerns with CalEnviroScreen and possible alternatives.