Colleen Callahan, co-executive director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, spoke to ABC7 News about expanding access to clean vehicles in rural communities in California. Electric vehicles are an important strategy to reduce carbon emissions and combat climate change, but zero-emission car sales have largely been clustered in wealthier, urban areas. Many rural communities that would benefit from increased investment of clean energy lack the necessary infrastructure for electric vehicles, such as charging stations. “The same Californians who tend to live in communities most affected by air pollution — including pollution from trucks and cars and other kinds of on-road sources — they’re the same ones that you’d think should be getting the access to the clean vehicles, but that’s not always the case,” Callahan said. She also highlighted the importance of lowering the cost of clean vehicles through rebates and raising community awareness about the benefits of zero-emission vehicles.
LAist spoke to Colleen Callahan, co-executive director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, about the California Climate Credit, one piece of the state’s larger strategy to address the climate crisis. Under the program, many consumers received a credit on their utility bills, funded by a cap-and-trade system that requires industries to pay for the pollution they emit. The credit is meant to offset the costs that fall on the public as California transitions from energy generated by fossil fuels to cleaner energy like wind and solar. Callahan said it may be time to rethink a universal credit, especially as low- and middle-income Californians continue to be disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and rising inflation. “If the goal is to increase energy affordability for low-income Californians during a transition to a clean, low-carbon economy, then other strategies that the state are using should probably receive more emphasis in the future,” she said.
By Les Dunseith
What comes to mind for Mary Nichols after 50 years as a leader of California’s environmental policy?
“As a lawyer, what I know is how to take laws … and actually make them do something for people,” she said. “If there’s a principle that I have tried to conduct my work by, it is that you don’t get appointed to one of these government jobs to fill the seat. You get appointed to actually do something with the job.”
After four terms as California Air Resources Board chair, Nichols told an in-person crowd of about 75 people and others watching online during the April 4 UCLA Luskin Lecture that getting things done requires dedication, persistence and, perhaps most importantly, good science.
Nichols pointed to her experience in leading the agency to set gasoline efficiency and anti-pollution standards in the automotive area.
“We had our own engineers who knew just as well as the people inside the car companies that we were regulating what could be made available and what could be made affordable — like the catalytic converter — if you could just get the companies over their reluctance to change and overcome their constant desire to hold onto what they have until they can figure out how to make a profit on it.”
If policymakers know what needs to be done and have the data to support it, Nichols said, “then you have a pretty good chance of bringing people along with you and moving forward.”
Nichols is an attorney who began working as an environmental regulator in response to the federal Clean Air Act of 1970. She first joined the state’s top environmental agency in 1975 and served as chair between 1979 and 1983, then from 1999 to 2003, and again from 2007 to 2020. She is also a distinguished counsel for the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at UCLA Law and has associations with the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability and with the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation.
In his introductory remarks, Dean Gary Segura of the Luskin School of Public Affairs said, “If you’re interested in the environment and you’re a longtime resident of California, the first name that would come to your mind in shaping the environmental policy of this state is Mary Nichols.”
Nichols’ appearance was the first Meyer and Renee Luskin Lecture Series event to occur in person in more than two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It took place in the Charles E. Young Grand Salon at Kerckhoff Hall on the UCLA campus.
Nichols was joined in a discussion about the past and future of clean transportation by Tierra Bills, assistant professor of public policy and civil and environmental engineering at UCLA, and Colleen Callahan MA UP ’10, co-executive director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation.
They touched on issues that included air pollution, the future of clean energy and how to overcome resistance from businesses, government officials and the public to new, cleaner technology, including fostering wider acceptance of electric cars.
“We start with the fact that electric vehicles are expensive. There’s no question that they are more expensive than gasoline cars,” Nichols acknowledged. “And new gasoline-powered cars are expensive to begin with.”
She noted that electric vehicles are a growing segment of the used car market, but the reality is that many people are never going to purchase an electric car unless manufacturers — many of which see electric vehicles as their future — receive government incentives to bring costs down.
“Otherwise, we’ll be looking at nothing but a luxury market,” Nichols said.
In California, a related need is starting to get more attention — making charging stations readily available.
“If people find a way to afford to buy an electric vehicle, but they don’t have a place to charge it, then it’s not doing any good,” Nichols said. “We still have a long way to go in terms of … providing charging in public places and charging at workplaces.”
Bills pointed out that technological innovation has historically bypassed disadvantaged communities.
Nichols said greater recognition of the need for equity now exists among decision-makers, but challenges remain. “I think there are ways of attacking the problem,” she said, “but it is going to require much bigger thinking than most of what has been going on up to now.”
Plus, dealing with environmental problems requires widespread buy-in.
Nichols joked, “Just saying that the Air Resources Board thinks you should do something isn’t going to be a winning argument, right?”
Regulation and innovation are important, she said, but federal and state agencies also must look to build partnerships at the municipal level, enlisting assistance from local businesses and community-based organizations.
She recalled an instance in which funding became available to advance air pollution goals by replacing old buses. To their surprise, government officials soon found themselves working not so much with school districts and large transit agencies as with religious organizations.
“That’s who had old buses that they wanted to turn in and get new, clean buses so they could take kids on field trips,” Nichols recalled. “So, sometimes it requires a new way of delivering services.”
Callahan spoke about the increasing alarm among scientists that more must be done — and soon — if humankind is going to persevere in the face of climate change. How does one remain grounded and optimistic when faced with so many dire predictions?
“You just have to keep working at it,” Nichols said. “It requires you to stay flexible in the sense that you look for new allies. You look for new resources. You look for new energy, which is one of the reasons why I like hanging around universities.”
Gesturing toward the crowd of environmental advocates, faculty, staff and students, Nichols continued.
“You get to know some of the people who, hopefully, are not just going to do what I did, but who are going to do it more and better.”
The Meyer and Renee Luskin Lecture Series enhances public discourse on topics relevant to the betterment of society, bringing together scholars as well as national and local leaders to address society’s most pressing problems. The event with Mary Nichols was co-hosted by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, along with several campus partners: the UCLA Center for Healthy Climate Solutions, UCLA Center for Impact@Anderson, UCLA Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies, UCLA Samueli Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and the UCLA Sustainable LA Grand Challenge.
View photos from the event on Flickr.
Watch the lecture on Vimeo.
Colleen Callahan, co-executive director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, spoke to E&E News about President Biden’s executive order regarding environmental justice in disadvantaged communities. The Justice40 Initiative calls for 40% of federal benefits from climate and energy programs to reach disadvantaged communities. Identifying and prioritizing these communities will be critical, said Callahan, who co-authored a report on implementing Justice40 with an equity lens. “There’s a fear that the states could have a big role in implementing the Justice40 dollars, but without a strong history of equity-centered investments in that type of area — clean energy, climate issues and environmental justice — we’re not actually going to achieve the outcomes that [Biden’s] executive order calls for,” Callahan said. “There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done to really define what our objectives are with Justice 40.”
Colleen Callahan MA UP ’10 has been appointed as co-executive director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation. She served as the founding deputy director for 12 years, playing an integral part in building the research center from the ground up. The new role reflects Callahan’s experience, the growing trajectory of the center and its goals for the future. In this expanded position, Callahan plans to increase strategic engagement and partnership initiatives to maximize the center’s impact on public policies and other environmental innovations for the health of people and the planet. “It’s both an exciting and daunting time to step into this role,” Callahan said. “Bold action on the climate crisis is urgently needed. I’m humbled to have this opportunity to expand the center’s collaborations with frontline communities, policymakers and others to help advance solutions.” With 18 years of experience in social entrepreneurship, environmental policy and urban planning, Callahan will amplify the work of the Luskin Center for Innovation’s 20 faculty affiliates, 12 full-time staff, and more than 25 part-time researchers and consultants. The new executive director position will enhance the center’s leadership structure, with Greg Pierce sharing the executive leadership role with Callahan. In addition, V. Kelly Turner and Pierce, faculty in the department of urban planning, are leading the center’s research programs as co-directors. Together, they bring a shared commitment and strong capacity to advance evidence-based and equitable environmental policies. Rounding out the team will be a new faculty director in the coming year.
Colleen Callahan, deputy director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, spoke to the Washington Post about federal funding for new infrastructure projects and the future of rail transit in the United States. President Biden has signed a trillion-dollar infrastructure bill into law, and $65 billion is earmarked for rail projects. However, Callahan expressed doubt that the new package will go toward high-speed rail. “This package is not the silver bullet for the bullet,” Callahan said. “We won’t see much of it go to high-speed rail.” Bullet trains are popular around the globe and can unite cities hundreds of miles apart without excessive carbon emissions. However, the federal funding for rail projects is expected to go largely to the federally owned Amtrak. Many transportation experts predict that Amtrak will use the funding to address problems on its traditional lines instead of investing in new high-speed rail projects.
An ABC7 News report on President Joe Biden’s pledge to prioritize environmental justice in disadvantaged communities highlighted an action plan put forward by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation. Known as the Justice40 Initiative, Biden’s executive action ordered that 40% of the federal government’s investments in climate and clean infrastructure be used to benefit people in historically marginalized communities. The UCLA report provides guidance on steps needed to design and implement the initiative to be effective and equitable. “Southern Californians breathe some of the dirtiest air in the country. These are the types of communities that should be at the front lines of receiving the benefits of investments that are meant to reduce air pollution and fight the effects of climate change,” said Colleen Callahan, deputy director of the Center for Innovation and co-author of the report. Other media outlets covering the Justice40 report include La Opinión, Black Voice News and Asian Journal.
Implementing the directive will not be simple, but a new report by scholars from the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, advised by environmental justice leaders, provides a framework that federal officials could use to maximize Justice40’s impact.
“One initiative alone can’t erase systemic racial and environmental injustices, but setting a strong, equity-centered framework for Justice40 is a first step in the right direction,” said Colleen Callahan, deputy director of the Luskin Center and a co-author of the report.
The report analyzes state-level programs seeking to address environmental justice through investments in clean energy and climate change action — already underway in some cases, and in planning stages in others — and identifies shortcomings, ongoing challenges and successes that could help inform the implementation of Biden’s plan.
The authors set forth three primary areas of emphasis for the initiative:
- Resources. Focus investments on the people who need it most. Provide funding to under-resourced communities for physical infrastructure projects, like clean water systems, as well as technical support to help local officials and community organizations apply for and manage funds they might receive through Justice40. The authors also recommend that the initiative’s 40% funding goal should be considered the minimum percentage of investments in disadvantaged communities, and that the figure should represent direct investments — rather than counting trickle-down benefits — for those communities.
- Empowerment. The initiative should pursue a ground-up approach by enabling those who live in under-resourced communities to help set policy and determine what local investments are made.
- Accountability. The initiative must include guardrails to ensure that all government agencies and contractors involved further the goals of environmental, racial, economic and health justice. The scholars write that Justice40 could be a catalyst for the federal government to help institutionalize equity including by pushing back on entrenched practices and rules that uphold inequities in government.
The authors list five types of disparities that Justice40 should seek to address: pollution burdens, climate risk, communities’ limited ability to apply for and manage federal funding, effects on labor and jobs, and environmental policy costs. They also identify numerous states that have plans or have already begun taking action to address those concerns, which disproportionately affect communities of color and low-income households:
- New York is planning to address those communities’ elevated exposure to pollution and its related effects on their health.
- Virginia is planning to address the uneven effects of storms, rising sea levels and other effects of climate change.
- California is investing in helping local officials and community groups apply for funding for under-resourced communities.
- Illinois and Maryland are planning to help provide job training for workers transitioning into clean energy jobs and financial support for those whose careers are being affected by the loss of jobs in the fossil fuel industry.
- The state of Washington is allocating funds to increase access to clean technology and lowering utility costs for low-income households.
The report explains that initiatives like those demonstrate that residents, workers and businesses can benefit from clean energy and climate investments across a range of sectors — including agriculture, health, housing, energy, transportation and water infrastructure.
“A theme across the states we studied is a history of grassroots strategy and organizing by communities of color,” said Silvia González, a co-author of the report and the director of research at the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative. “In states such as California, New York and Illinois, those communities have helped shape investment plans and programs to be more equitable.”
The researchers specifically examine California Climate Investments, a statewide initiative that has directed billions of dollars to disadvantaged communities.
The research was funded in part by the Heising-Simons Foundation, the Climate and Clean Energy Equity Fund and the Hewlett Foundation. The report’s other authors are Daniel Coffee, a UCLA associate project manager, and J.R. DeShazo, the former director of the Luskin Center for Innovation and current dean of the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas. The study’s advisers included leaders of GreenLatinos, the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Kentuckians For The Commonwealth and other nonprofits.
Colleen Callahan, deputy director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, spoke to Health about how to address environmental racism. “Race matters in the distribution of environmental hazards, dirty air, and polluted soil and water,” Callahan said. Communities of color are more likely to be burdened with environmental hazards, such as toxic waste and industrial pollution, that put residents at greater risk of illness and negative health outcomes, she said. They also experience fewer positive environmental benefits, such as quality parks, compared with white communities, she added. According to Callahan, it is not enough for environmental policies to be race neutral. “Communities of color and low-income households disproportionately harmed by pollution from our fossil-fueled economy should also disproportionately benefit from the transition to a clean economy,” she said. “Health disparities, education disparities, economic disparities and more are linked to where we live — our environment.”
Luskin Center for Innovation Director JR DeShazo and Deputy Director Colleen Callahan co-authored an opinion piece for the Capitol Weekly that explores the rise of clean energy in cities. Dozens of cities and counties in California are already running on 100% clean energy, a transition often spearheaded by local leaders, the authors found. They argued for a statewide move toward clean energy achieved by reforming state and utility policies, modernizing grid operations and increasing grid connectedness. “Local communities are proving possible what once seemed impossible: Cities and counties can run on 100% clean power,” DeShazo and Callahan wrote. “By achieving this goal today, local initiatives can light the way for the rest of the country. They can and should serve as inspiration to other cities, states, and the federal government to support 100% clean energy commitments, and to take bold action to achieve those goals.”