What the U.S. Can Learn from California’s Playbook on Clean Mobility Equity
Following four appalling years of one Trump-era calamity after another, the ushering in of a new federal administration is offering glimmers of hope for the chance to meet our interlocking racial equity and climate mobility goals. Some early attempts to set these objectives in motion include President Biden’s executive order requiring the Federal Government to advance racial equity and his proposed American Jobs Plan. A significant portion of that plan will involve investing in strategies to address the climate crisis and spur economic benefits in a way that centers equity. It cannot be overstated how exciting this federal government leadership is -- a year ago we could not even imagine a world where there was a sense of so much possibility. America may finally have the political willpower and resources to pass legislation like the American Jobs Plan, and can incorporate Greenlining’s proposed recommendations for how to carry out those plans.
Passing the legislation is only the first step
Despite this renewed federal commitment -- it is critical to learn from past missteps and not settle for half measures. Instead, advocates must hold leaders accountable to deliver real equitable results to frontline communities of color. This will require a slew of new programs and funding streams as well as serious reform to existing ones that continue to dig the U.S. further into the climate crisis and perpetuate racial disparities. Federal leadership and support certainly is crucial to expanding new funding opportunities. Yet rather than a blanket national approach to equitable climate investments, we need tailored programs and strategies that meet a wide array of needs.
Let’s narrow in on some emerging strategies within the transportation sector, given that it’s the largest share of climate emissions. Folks don’t have to look much farther from California’s years of experience investing in electric vehicle incentives, electric carsharing and mobility hubs, school bus replacement programs, agricultural worker vanpools, and community-driven clean mobility pilots, and much more. These programs range widely to meet various needs across urban, suburban and rural communities. Over time, these programs have more intentionally advanced equity by prioritizing the needs of low-income communities of color. Clean mobility programs can not only help fight climate change and clean the air, they can improve mobility for residents of underserved communities, reduce traffic and dependence on cars, and be engines of economic empowerment that help reduce the racial wealth gap. California certainly did not get everything right straight away. Being on the cutting edge has sometimes looked like being on the bleeding edge. We at The Greenlining Institute want states and the federal government to learn from these wins and also our mistakes.
That’s why a year ago, Greenlining’s climate equity team decided that the time was right to conduct an equity evaluation of 12 California clean mobility equity pilots and programs. The equity best practices, challenges, lessons learned, and recommendations are catalogued in detail in a report titled Clean Mobility Equity: A Playbook.
The overarching best practices were categorized based on Greenlining’s 6 Standards for Equitable Investment.
Traditional equity measures do not capture the full scope of what communities really need to thrive. Equity requires us to think more broadly and holistically, and ultimately more successfully. These 6 Standards are clearly very intersectional and comprehensive -- well beyond traditional benefits associated with transportation.
While the clean mobility equity programs included in this report represent some of the most innovative equity approaches to date, there is still a long way to go to ensure that they can be replicated and scaled up in California, other states, and by the federal government. Unfortunately, the programs that are showing the most potential to deliver on transformative equity and sustainability outcomes are not currently being prioritized at the levels needed. We found that those that have a comprehensive mobility equity approach driven by local communities’ needs are underfunded, in high-demand, and should be expanded. We also learned that piecemeal approaches and programs that have a limited focus or no focus on the people who face the most barriers are less effective and therefore need immediate reform. Finally, far too much funding continues to be allocated to programs that continue to entrench our dependency on single-occupancy vehicles. This reality led us to distill the following recommendations for California, other states, and the federal government:
The Playbook not only outlines a high-level vision, it also digs into the nuts and bolts of how to develop and deploy clean mobility equity pilots and programs. To ensure these investments are effective and long-lasting, it is critical to think about how to sustainably replicate and scale up these types of programs. Greenlining’s follow up report titled Sustaining Clean Mobility Equity Programs outlines equitable funding mechanisms, community partnerships, and revenue streams -- all key to ensuring the longevity of investments in clean mobility equity. These are exactly the kinds of details that will be helpful in shaping investments that the Federal Government is poised to deliver.
Moving with intention
The reality is that we will need strong federal leadership at every step of the way. While California is showing promise as climate equity leaders, even if California does everything right -- the U.S. will get nowhere if the rest of the country and world does not have the resources to get on board. To comprehensively meet our ambitious climate goals will require the allocation of a jaw dropping amount of funds. At the same time, addressing the racial wealth gap will require targeted, equitable investments as never seen before. While these numbers are staggering, the alternative cost of not acting on climate or failing to close the racial wealth gap will certainly be higher. With the Biden Administration in place, the U.S. has a rare moment in time to begin to allocate the funds to simultaneously address these critically intertwined issues.
Securing the funds through legislation like the American Jobs Plan is merely the starting point. We have a long, but worthwhile fight ahead of us. It will take patience to shape and deploy tailored climate investments to meet the health and economic needs of communities of color, in a way that meaningfully centers equity. The reality is that the Federal Government cannot fast track equity -- because equity requires us to radically change the way that governments develop programs, distribute funds, build partnerships, understand what communities need, and share decision-making power. These concepts certainly run counter to the traditional way that government operates -- yet it’s exactly the kind of thinking that will help us advance our climate equity goals.
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