Guest Commentary- The secret behind creating the largest fund in U.S. history for building a green economy

March 30, 2017

By: Vien Truong, National Director of Green For All

As the head of Green For All, I travel the country working with grassroots leaders and state electeds to craft policies that prioritize families and workers living in the most polluted cities in America.

My heart breaks every time I hear about another Flint or Standing Rock. I know what it’s like to live in a struggling and polluted community. In Oakland, California where I raise my 3-year old twin boys, air pollution is so bad that where we live is known as the “toxic triangle.” I see dilapidated homes, a food desert, homeless families, and neglected schools on my way to work every day. It is because I see and live in the daily reality of what poverty and pollution look like that I have continued to feel the urgency to fight for communities like mine all across the country. Will you join me?

Trump says we can’t have clean air and good jobs. Nope, wrong. I know he’s wrong because I helped establish the largest fund in U.S. history to build a green economy -- creating jobs and opportunities for people in all walks of life.

In 2006, California passed the Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32), which committed the state to fighting climate change and reaching ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals. The Act was significant at a time when few states were taking action. But it lacked a plan for addressing greenhouse gases in low-income communities and communities of color specifically.

Big polluters have tried to kill the law every year since its passage. The truth is, it was a difficult fight to preserve it each year. And while the law guaranteed emissions reductions overall, it didn't go far enough to protect the communities facing the worst pollution. That’s when I decided to do something.

Through my work at the Greenlining Institute -- where I worked at the time -- I co-led the California Climate Equity Coalition to champion legislation known as Senate Bill 535 (State Sen. Kevin de León). The coalition initially consisted of four organizations: the Greenlining Institute, Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Coalition for Clean Air, and Public Advocates.

We wanted to make sure that families who were suffering the worst would see some relief in the Global Warming Solutions Act. The idea was simple: require a percentage of the state’s proceeds from cap and trade to fund projects that benefit the most disadvantaged communities.

In the first two years of implementation, nearly $1 billion was invested in reducing greenhouse gases and bringing the green economy to disadvantaged communities.

Those funds went to free solar and energy efficiency upgrades for working families, electric vanpools for rural areas that didn't have reliable public transportation, free bus passes for seniors and students, thousands of trees planted in concrete jungles, and much more. The impact was truly amazing. Check out these stories on how the fund changed people's lives.

SB 535 now allocates 35% of the funds from the program to frontline communities. This has created jobs, reduced costs, and improved lives for low-income communities and communities of color -- which has also helped these communities begin to see themselves in the environmental movement.

Today, the California Climate Equity Coalition has grown to include more than 150 groups that continue to fight for climate solutions prioritizing communities hit first and worst by poverty and pollution. Industry lobbyists now have zero chance of rolling back progress in California due to the robust political support we have built.

Now we are faced with a federal government that is attacking climate protections in every way possible. We need state leaders across the country to stand up for frontline families who will be hurt first and worst.

Green For All is proud to be partnering with the State Innovation Exchange (SiX) to offer our support to state legislators.

Watch our video on the #535Story at and download the Legislator Toolkit here.

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