The movement to build a new green economy is an extraordinary opportunity to overcome our heritage of racism and injustice –but only if we do it right, according to Communities for a Better Environment Director Bill Gallegos.

Gallegos spoke yesterday at the Local Clean Energy Alliance conference on Clean Power and Healthy Communities.

“This period is an opportunity for us to use the emerging green economy to make social justice the centerpiece” of the clean energy movement and “of the effort to finally overcome our legacy of racism,” said Gallegos. “We need to guide clean energy economy to make sure that its benefits
go first to the communities that are most impacted by ecological crisis and who need it most.”

If the green economy movement is to succeed, it must also embrace justice as a goal and support the organizations and movements that fight for it, Gallegos said. “To help these social movements to grow and flourish is important for all of us, because that is where change is going to
come from,” said Gallegos.

He recounted the story of the proposed new power plant in the City of Vernon in Los Angeles County – the smallest city in California, with a population of 91 in the 200 census. 
The city had decided to build a major power plant, which would provide huge tax revenue for the tiny number of Vernon residents and further pollute the already desperately over-polluted region

CBE worked with the nearby community to build a broad-based movement of opposition to the plant. The surrounding community came out in force, mostly women, demanding no more dirty plants in poor neighborhoods.  Gellegos said that the local community put forward a consistent message that they would support construction of a clean renewable energy power plant. They argued to local politicians that they needed to look at existing burden, in this region ringed by freeways and choked by pollution. The movement succeeded in isolated the city of Vernon, Gallegos said. “Every surrounding community and politician came out against.”

CBE brought a court case under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) The availability of a court action has important strategic benefits, so long as it is subordinated to the political movement and goals of local residents, Gallegos stated. He observed that SEQA is now under attack, with more than 20 pieces of legislation that would limit or gut it. He added that he expects Chevron in Richmond will ask for a CEQA exemption if the current appeal of the court decision
denying its expansion request is denied.

California has now adopted a 33% renewable content standard for its electric generation. “Build some of this stuff in our communities,” Gallegos demanded. He asserted that such construction would “help us to reinvigorate the business infrastructure in our communities.”

Green collar jobs are essential, but not sufficient, Gallegos said. “Our communities need technical assistance, access to credit,” and other resources. “We need a research infrastructure, rooted in our communities.” He favored the green construction initiatives, but said people of color and poor communities also need architecture, design, and manufacturing jobs.

Currently, CBE is fighting across the state for local ordinances and regulations that address the cumulative impact of pollution and environmental damage on communities.

When a community is identified as bearing an excessive cumulative burden, the ordinance or regulation would prevent new pollution sources from being sited there, mitigate existing pollution, and allocate resources to revitalize the areas by attracting clean operating businesses and creating sustainable neighborhoods, creating green space, and strengthening mass transit, sustainable infrastructure.

Gallegos put forward several principles for that he said should govern the emerging green economy plans. He stated that decisions on how money is allocated be approved by local communities “because we are spending public money.” He asserted that burdened communities need whole range of new economy jobs: construction, research, design, architecture, manufacturing and others.

He concluded with “the words of one of my heros, Che Guevara – ‘let’s be realistic and do the impossible.’”