An environmental justice perspective on the Green New Deal

CCAEJ Executive Director Allen Hernandez.
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The Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice believes the Green New Deal (Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez) could have a positive effect on our region through its Just Transition, clean energy, and zero emission goals.

The Green New Deal proposes that we move towards zero emissions in our transportation sector. A strong first step is to address heavy duty freight pollution in black and brown communities like the Westside of San Bernardino and Mira Loma. The World Health Organization reports that the transportation sector is the fastest growing contributor to climate change. This is a fact we can’t keep ignoring.

Locally, CCAEJ and partnering organizations are pressuring the South Coast Air Quality Management District to begin looking at real ways to curb diesel emissions. The only answer to cleaning up our air is zero-emissions technology. To do this, the warehouse and logistics industry must invest in electric infrastructure.

The Green New Deal proposes that our energy supply be 100 percent clean energy. In order to achieve this goal, all remaining gas-fired power plants must be retired. While the retirement of the Etiwanda gas-fired power plant last year marked a milestone towards this goal, there is a dire need to retire several plants in Colton and Riverside. Our public officials have an obligation to ensure that dirty sources of energy are replaced with solely renewable energy sources like wind, solar, and battery storage. Local school districts have already procured their power from solar and storage. It’s tragic and irresponsible that our cities and counties have not followed suit.

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The Green New Deal talks about a Just Transition, which is achieved when we shift from an exploitative economy built off of the lives of low-income communities of color to a 100 percent renewable energy and zero emissions economy that prioritizes people over profit. In the Inland Empire, warehouse workers are hired through temporary staffing agencies and put through inhumane working conditions. Workers are underpaid, given irregular hours, and lack health benefits. The UC Riverside Center for Social Innovation published a study in 2018 that found that less than half of the jobs in our region pay a living wage. A Just Transition and a call for a green economy demands that the logistics industry treat workers with respect and allow them to organize and unionize without retaliation.

Where Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal misses the mark is in regards to net-zero and firm accountability. Net-zero does not directly cut the emission source, but instead provides an out for polluters to continue contaminating our air, land, and soil with offsets. When we rely on net-zero and cap and trade, we’re following the same paradigm that continues to kill our communities. The Green New Deal also fails to explicitly name the fossil fuel industry as the culprit. It’s imperative that we hold these corporations–Western States Petroleum Association, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Shell–accountable for today’s climate change crisis. The lives of our working class, communities of color depend on it.

Environmental justice communities in the Inland Empire continue to pay the repercussions of corporate pollution with their lives. The Green New Deal can hold polluters accountable, demand and implement zero-emissions infrastructure, and give frontline communities power and control over the green new economy. There’s only one option when it comes to preserving the quality of life for residents, and that’s pushing for a future that is free of fossil fuels.

By Allen Hernandez, Executive Director, Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice

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