Integrated and Equitable Climate Action Awarded $1.2 Million to Advance IECA Across the State


CLEANR Grid Image

Members of the IECA Team (clockwise, from top left): Catherine Garoupa (CVAQ), Connie McGuire (Newkirk Center), Alejandro Camacho (UCI Law), Michael Mendez (UPPP), Swati Meshram (Buena Park), Nikki Caravelli (OPR), Genevieve Amsalem (CCEJN), Jennifer Gress (CARB), Marce Gutiérrez-Graudiņš (Azul), Gustavo Aguirre (CRPE), Gregg Macey (UCI Law), Laurie Aubuchon (Buena Park), Doug Houston (UPPP), Carrie Menkel-Meadow (UCI Law), Cesar Aguirre (CCEJN), Richard Kravitz (UC Davis), Mario Barnes (UCI Law), Margarita Macedonio (Santa Ana), and Joseph DiMento (UCI Law).

IRVINE, Calif. (Sept. 1, 2023) — A groundbreaking and collaborative consortium of community leaders, local and state policymakers, and UC scholars was awarded a $1.2 million climate action grant as part of the historic $80 million partnership announced on August 23, 2023 by the University of California and the state of California to address state climate priorities. The brainchild of Gregg Macey, Director of the Center for Land, Environment, and Natural Resources (CLEANR) at the University of California, Irvine School of Law (UCI Law), this innovative “Integrated and Equitable Climate Action” (IECA) project will take on the vital task of aligning local land use plans with urgent state climate objectives and mandates and developing best practices for localities to engage in effective and equitable adaptation planning.

Along with Dr. Macey, UCI Chancellor's Professor of Law Alejandro Camacho, who serves as faculty director of CLEANR, is the principal investigator on the project. Co-investigators include UCI Professor of Law Mario Barnes, UCI Distinguished Professor of Law Joseph F. C. DiMento, UCI Distinguished and Chancellor's Professor of Law Carrie Menkel-Meadow, UCI’s Department of Urban Planning and Public Policy, UCI’s Newkirk Center for Science and Society, and UC Center Sacramento at UC Davis. Crucially, however, IECA also integrates community leaders and organizations such as the Center on Race, Poverty, and the Environment (CRPE), Central Valley Air Quality Coalition (CVAQ), Central California Environmental Justice Network (CCEJN), and Azul; local governments such as Buena Park and Santa Ana; and state agencies including the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR).

In California, decades of social movement work and community organization for environmental and climate justice achieved numerous policy victories. But “from the start, the state’s response to the twin crises of environmental racism and climate change raised concerns,” said Dr. Macey, Center Associate Director for Environmental Justice of CLEANR at UCI Law. “There are many ways in which state policy fell short: It did not give immediate assistance to communities that endure disproportionate impacts. It took a narrow view of environmental justice as participation. It asked communities to invest substantial time and resources on work groups and advisory committees. It postponed consideration of critical issues such as cumulative impacts. It faced resistance among agency staff. And it was met with severe technological and scientific limits.” These and other critiques were lodged before state policy had a chance to evolve and address certain blind spots, before cities and towns drafted climate emergency resolutions, before the COVID-19 pandemic laid bare racial and other inequities across the state, and before the Black Lives Matter movement encouraged agencies to adopt racial equity policies that call for organizational change.  

While substantial progress has been made, the limits of state policy persist. “Our Center works with organizations and community leaders who fought for environmental and climate justice their entire lives — they set the groundwork for state policy: everything from environmental justice legislation in the 1980s and 1990s, to the Community Air Protection Program, to conservation commitments such as 30x30,” said Dr. Macey. “At the same time, communities stress that existing programs fall short. Most importantly, state policies do not yet maximize economic, environmental, and public health co-benefits or adequately invest in frontline communities.” What explains this? “One of the key limiting factors is local land use. You can’t ensure a just transition or address structural racism without careful attention to what’s happening in local land use, transportation, and climate action planning.” In response, Dr. Macey worked with colleagues in the environmental justice movement, community and municipal planners, and faculty from across the University of California to create IECA.  

The team will use the recently awarded $1.2 million to advance IECA across the state. “The collaborative work supported by these funds is just vital for helping California’s local communities prepare for and manage the effects of climate change,” said Professor Camacho. “We look forward to engaging with leading scholars, policymakers and community partners to help develop best practices that are urgently needed to accelerate local climate adaptation planning and implementation.” 

"Azul is pleased to continue to partner with UCI Law, including its Center for Land, Environment and Natural Resources, in the IECA program," said Marce Gutiérrez-Graudiņš, founder and executive director of Azul, a Latinx-led and -serving grassroots environmental justice organization. "We've worked together on federal conservation commitments, as well as state coastal agency environmental justice policy, through the Coastal Justice Lab, a joint program of UCI Law and Azul — and we now embrace this opportunity to continue to lead with environmental justice values as we assume an important and necessary body of work as part of the state's Climate Action Research Initiative.”  

“More should be done to meet the ambitions of our communities and the state, particularly at the local level,” said Genevieve Amsalem, research and policy director of CCEJN. “CCEJN has worked on climate action through its monitoring and reporting projects, contributions to emissions reduction planning under AB 617 and Climate Change Scoping Plan updates, and design and support of policy updates to ensure more comprehensive regulation of the air quality impacts of agriculture and oil and gas. The core of our work focuses on building capacity of community members to identify, document and report environmental impacts through the use of community science methods, as well as fostering their capacity to advocate for and watchdog the implementation and enforcement of environmental regulations. We will bring that expertise to IECA, with a focus on jurisdictions in Central California.”

“With our Co-P.I.s, community partners and advisors, IECA’s goal is simple: to dramatically increase California’s capacity for local land use policy innovation, to achieve state climate goals and to maximize the co-benefits of climate policy within disadvantaged communities, from multi-pollutant and multimodal planning to reversing longstanding policies that perpetuate disinvestment, segregation and other dynamics,” said Dr. Macey. IECA focuses on applied research, needs assessment and collaborative plan design to help align local land use plans — including climate action plans and general plan elements — with state climate objectives and policies. Land use challenges include: evaluating local land use plans to address significant and inequitable greenhouse gas emissions and toxic air emissions; ensuring local integration of transportation and land use to avoid unintended consequences; monitoring consistency of climate action and general plans; addressing structural as well as geographic and procedural inequities through housing, safety, environmental justice and other general plan elements; identifying consistency issues between general plans and regional documents such as sustainable communities strategies; developing policy measures for local governments to effectively integrate mitigation and adaptation plans; affirmatively furthering fair housing; and identifying state actions to empower local governments to meet their climate integration goals. 

“Having worked with members of the IECA team, including UCI Law and Department of Urban Planning and Public Policy on an evaluation of Transportation Equity and Justice through Community-Driven Planning, we look forward to joining IECA as a co-principal investigator,” said Dr. Catherine Garoupa, executive director of CVAQ. “In our region, few cities have adopted climate action or other local plans that include clear and comprehensive strategies to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, much less implemented measures to ensure community resilience in the face of climate impacts. General Plan elements must be sufficiently innovative and aligned with principles of equity so that our region can meet or surpass California’s climate goals. We are encouraged by IECA’s focus on working with communities to evaluate local climate actions, research and draft model land use plan revisions and strategies to align local land use plans with state climate objectives, and work closely with jurisdictions on intensive, collaborative plan development.” 

“Most critically, our staff will work with IECA as it evaluates planning documents in each jurisdiction for potential drafting or updates. This includes everything from climate action plans to general plan environmental justice, safety, housing, circulation and other elements,” said Gustavo Aguirre, director of organizing for CRPE. “We have worked to further climate justice from our inception, centering the racial, social and economic inequities of climate change and prioritizing local solutions to this global problem. We’ve worked with our allies to help pass legislation such as SB 32 and AB 197, challenged the legality of Scoping Plans under AB 32, and represented the Native Village of Kivalina, an Inupiat community in northwestern Alaska, in a lawsuit against the world’s top global warming polluters. We now work to transition to clean energy-based economies, address the impact of short-lived climate pollutants, and advocate for direct regulation of greenhouse gas emissions and an equitable carbon pricing system. We also have experience working with communities and local governments on needs assessment, which is one of IECA’s ongoing research priorities.” 

“Cities consume nearly 80 percent of the world’s energy and produce 60 percent of its carbon emissions. However, in Orange County and elsewhere, few cities have adopted climate action or other local plans that include clear and comprehensive strategies to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions while ensuring community resilience in the face of climate impacts,” said Arthur C. Brown, mayor of Buena Park. “IECA’s collaborative plan design track aligns closely with Buena Park’s mission and goals as pertain to the City’s response to climate change, including our commitments to clean energy, mobility, and sustainability. Our work with IECA will help to achieve those goals.” “The Integrated and Equitable Climate Action program will yield substantial benefits for the residents of the City of Santa Ana and California,” said Minh Thai, executive director of Santa Ana’s Planning and Building Agency. “As we identify resources and begin the process to update our Climate Action Plan, we remain committed to a transparent and inclusive engagement process with our neighborhoods, school parents, businesses, nonprofits, the IECA partnership, and many other stakeholders to reach this important milestone together,” added Nabil Saba, executive director of Santa Ana’s Public Works Agency.

IECA builds on UCI Law faculty and programs devoted to environmental and land use law and public dispute resolution; the Department of Urban Planning and Public Policy’s expertise in climate policy and transportation and land use planning; UC Center Sacramento’s ability to facilitate communication with the State Legislature and disseminate policy relevant research; the Newkirk Center for Science and Society’s experience and innovation in community-based participatory research, outreach, and evaluation; and the Center for Land, Environment, and Natural Resources’ community-based environmental justice research and collaborative policy design workshops. “As UC’s hub for dissemination of evidence to inform public policy, UC Center Sacramento is thrilled to participate in the IECA Program. We eagerly anticipate bringing community partners and policymakers together to help translate climate science into climate action at the local and state levels,” said UC Davis Distinguished Professor of Medicine Dr. Richard Kravitz, who directs UC Center Sacramento. “UCI’s historical efforts at cooperation with local agencies and municipalities receive a major, potentially transformative, infusion with this important grant on a challenge of importance at all levels — from the local, to the global. My students and I are excited to be involved,” added UCI Law Distinguished Professor of Law Dr. Joseph DiMento. 

“Our aim is to ensure that a growing number of California’s counties and municipal governments are at the forefront of climate policy — that they meet and, where possible, exceed state goals and requirements while centering the lives and expertise of frontline communities,” Dr. Macey stressed. “That is the work ahead, not only for the life of the program, but through midcentury.”

About the University of California, Irvine School of Law  
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