By Vien Truong

Last week, I wrote about the history of environmental racism that has afflicted Oakland as well as communities of color and low-income communities across the state. Today, I want to introduce you to part of the solution.

His name is Denny Sysaknoi, and at age 16 he was headed for trouble. He grew up in a rough neighborhood with parents who were rarely there for him. His brother was in a gang, and is still in prison today. Denny was arrested at age 16 for possession of an unregistered gun, and got kicked out of school. His future looked grim.

But his life took a different turn. Today, at 21, Denny installs solar panels on the homes of low-income families in Fresno, where he grew up. He has a family. He has a career. He has a future.

What’s happened to Denny is beginning to happen for others in polluted and economically struggling neighborhoods up and down the state, and Oakland is one of many communities that will benefit. But Big Oil is trying to strangle that progress when it’s barely off the ground.

You see, California is doing something incredibly smart. Thanks to a law called AB 32 (Nunez/Pavley), we’re charging polluters for the junk they put into our air – carbon that causes climate change as well as the particulates and toxic chemicals that come with it. That includes big, industrial polluters as well as the oil companies making all that diesel fuel that so fouls the air into much of Oakland.

And we’re using that money for projects that help reduce pollution even further, while creating jobs for people like Denny. Thanks to follow-up legislation sponsored by The Greenlining Institute and other community advocates, SB 535 (deLeon), one quarter of those funds must go to projects that benefit highly polluted and economically disadvantaged communities.

Some of that money will go to bolster SASH, California’s Single Family Affordable Solar Homes program, making clean solar power affordable for low-income families, which has funded many of the projects Denny has worked on and where he got trained as a solar installer. Other funding will help families and small business owners make their homes and businesses more energy efficient, create affordable housing close to mass transit, and help replace dirty gas and diesel vehicles with clean, affordable forms of transportation.

The first year’s SB 535 funding, $272 million, will start rolling out this spring. But California’s climate law has already started to fund an Oakland Project that will capture and use organic material from solid waste, keeping over 20,000 tons of material out of East Bay landfills capturing the methane it produces, while creating both permanent and temporary jobs. That’s just the first, tiny start to projects here and around the state that will clean our air and put our people to work for years to come.

But we have to fight to protect this law, which is under ferocious attack from Big Oil and the fake “consumer” groups the oil lobby has created. They’re barraging the public and the legislature with misleading, distorted claims. Appallingly, they’re even claiming to represent low-income Californians – the very people whose kids are literally being poisoned by the pollution their products produce, and who are getting good jobs from California’s smart climate policies.

We’re fighting back. This week, we launched a new website, UpLiftCA.org, that tells the story of California’s sensible, forward-thinking laws to fight global warming. Here you can find Denny’s story and the story of a low-income family that now has clean, affordable solar power thanks to Denny’s crew.

There will also be clear information about how these laws work, the good they’re doing for neighborhoods that have been neglected for too long, and resources for families and business owners looking to save energy and save money.

The site will grow over the coming months as we add more stories, information and resources. We’re giving it all we’ve got, but the blunt truth is we don’t have the money and resources that the oil lobby does. We’re depending on people power. We’re depending on you.

Please visit UpLiftCA.org and learn the true story of how California’s climate change and clean energy laws are uplifting our air, our jobs and our neighborhoods – and help spread the word. The lungs you save may be your own.

 

Oakland resident Vien Truong is Environmental Equity Director at The Greenlining Institute, a racial justice institute that works to bring the American Dream within reach of all, regardless of race or income. 

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