Getting Off Gas Must Benefit Those Burdened by Pollution

October 20, 2020 Michele Knab HassonMerrian Borgeson NRDC

Leading California equity groups are calling on the state to take stronger steps to support healthier, more affordable, fossil fuel-free homes, especially for low-income renters and Black, Brown and Indigenous communities. Protecting the health of Californians most impacted by pollution and structural racism, and combating climate change, requires new policies to prioritize them in transitioning from polluting gas to clean electricity in homes as soon as possible, ensuring no one is left behind.

Credit: Greenlining Institute

Greenlining Institute and the California Environmental Justice Alliance (CEJA) are urging the public to reach out to Governor Newson and other California leaders to highlight the need to upgrade at least 3 million homes, with priority given to low-income Californians, so they use only clean electricity by 2030. These 3 million homes would just be a start, more needs to be done to meet longer term climate and pollution reduction goals. Replacing gas water heaters, furnaces, stoves, and washers and dryers will protect the health of residents, avoid climate pollution from gas, and lower energy bills—along with creating jobs. It is also vital to make sure that as these clean appliances are installed, tenants and communities are protected from displacement and gentrification.

Buildings that use efficient electric heating and water heating technologies emit zero pollution on-site. And when powered by electricity generated from emissions-free renewable resources like wind and solar, they enable buildings to run on 100-percent clean energy. Research shows that upgrading existing homes with heat pump water heating and space heating lowers total utility bills. And a recent study found that replacing gas with electric appliances in California homes would prevent about 350 premature deaths each year and produce $3.5 billion in annual health benefits from cleaner air. 

Because the burdens of climate change and air pollution from fossil fuel use fall disproportionately on Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) and low-income communities, California’s push for clean all-electric homes must prioritize these communities while also providing clear protections against displacement for low-income renters who may be at risk of raised rents or eviction when properties are improved. 

Four Important Steps

Greenlining Institute and CEJA have mounted a newspaper ad and social media campaign to highlight these issues. They identify four key steps to improve the health and well-being of Californians and create jobs: 

  • Phase fossil fuels out of 20 percent (3 million) homes by 2030, starting with low-income and BIPOC communities,
  • Create high quality jobs retrofitting buildings with clean energy,
  • Ensure newly built homes are not powered by fossil fuels, and
  • Ensure that low-income and BIPOC communities are benefitting from, not burdened by, the transition away from fossil fuels.

California is already making progress on getting gas out of homes. A whopping 35 local cities and counties have already passed local building codes encouraging or requiring new buildings to be all-electric. The legislature also has approved $200 million in funding through SB 1477 (Stern) to jumpstart the market for efficient heat pump technology.

But ensuring that no one is left behind in this transition requires understanding the needs of low-income and BIPOC Californians, and intentionally supporting these households to make the transition, especially renters living in subsidized and unsubsidized affordable housing. 

It also requires creating protections so that upgrading homes does not lead to tenants being unable to afford them or have to move due to gentrification. This will require focused attention from California’s top leaders, and the best policy solutions will help the families that are struggling due to pollution burden and systemic racism, while also creating high quality jobs.

You can join in urging these important actions by going here: