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How an Environmental Group Aligned with Monopoly Utilities to Squash Rooftop Solar

Comic strip illustrating the absurdity of trying to kill solar adoption during the climate crisis

California’s legislative session has closed for 2021 and elected officials are beginning to discuss 2022 legislative priorities, undoubtedly strategizing about which groups will likely support or oppose their bills. As many California elected officials ran on progressive platforms, getting buy-in from environmental groups will be a big priority for many Democratic lawmakers.

One group that’s getting a lot of attention from climate activists is the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which has a mission to “safeguard the earth—its people, its plants and animals, and the natural systems on which all life depends and has always been traditionally looked at as an environmental organization.” Historically, NRDC has been highly respected and considered a reputable climate organization, with taglines like “Earth’s best defense” and with big wins like preserving critical species and securing broad legal protections for wildlife and marine protected areas. In 2010, NRDC helped to craft the first ever national ocean policy, which improves coordination among states and created a National Ocean Policy. Internationally, NRDC worked with partners to develop a first-of-its-kind United Nations agreement that requires the regulation of bottom trawling. NRDC has done some great work in the climate space. 

NRDC was established as a nonprofit organization 51 years ago and its support or opposition is highly valued, however, its seniority and past wins have allowed the organization to support anti-climate, pro-utility legislation while still being regarded by many as a reputable environmental group, derailing legislation and climate policies. Why would an organization dedicated to protecting the earth support anti-climate policies? While it’s not well known, NRDC has a history of siding with the investor-owned utilities to advance a fossil fuel agenda, although more individuals and organizations are taking notice as of late. 

After John Bryson co-founded NRDC, he served as a commissioner for the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and eventually went on to become the CEO of Edison International, which founded the Edison International Institute (EII). EII is a utility-backed organization, which has produced studies biased against rooftop solar and led the attacks on the industry over the years. Taking a deeper look into NRDC’s history, Ralph Cavanagh, a senior lawyer from NRDC, set up the “California Collaborative Process” in 1989, which according to the San Francisco Bay Guardian, enabled key environmentalists to "meet behind closed doors with top executives from private utilities to smooth over their differences and hammer out energy-efficiency programs.” 

NRDC has issued at least four joint statements with Edison Electric Institute since 2002 regarding all manner of clean energy policy, which NRDC makes no effort to hide. In 2014, NRDC made a deal with the utility industry in which the utilities would stop fighting the existence of energy efficiency and rooftop solar in exchange for NRDC's support for designing these programs so the utilities can maintain their profit margins. Beyond joint statements from NRDC and utility groups, NRDC has also worked with the utilities to draft anti-climate policies. For example, in 2016, NRDC and the utilities jointly filed for changes to the state’s net energy metering program, the rooftop solar agreement that has helped over one million California families, schools, businesses, cities and organizations to go solar. In 2019, as policymakers were debating whether or not Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) should be held liable for the fires PG&E caused, the LA Times reported NRDC’s ‘Cavanagh thinks state legislators should change the law so that PG&E and other utilities aren’t held liable for fires sparked by their infrastructure unless they’re found to be negligent. “Our utility liability rules are unworkable. They menace every utility in California, and they need to be fixed,” he said. “This is not just about PG&E, and it’s a mistake to treat it as such.”’

Fast forward to this year when we watched NRDC undermine rooftop solar by supporting the “kill solar bill” in California, Assembly Bill 1139, and submitting an anti-solar proposal for the state’s net energy metering program, which will determine the future rooftop solar agreement in California. Beyond that, NRDC has made attempts to derail the net energy metering proceeding by suggesting major changes to the tool that determines how the CPUC values rooftop solar.  Further, the lawyer representing NRDC in the net energy metering proceeding formerly represented PG&E for 15 years, and represented Pacific Gas Transmission Company, a subsidiary of PG&E, for two years.

Environmentalists and climate justice advocates are beyond frustrated with NRDC’s actions. Not only is NRDC selling out to monopoly utility companies supporting environmental racism and accelerating the climate crisis, which often impacts communities of concern first and worst, its actions are causing decision makers to cite “environmental groups support {insert anti-solar initiative}” when in reality, it’s just one so-called environmental group that has a long-standing track record supporting the investor-owned utility companies. NRDC prioritizing that relationship over advocating to keep a proven climate solution an option for California, is not only disappointing, it has major consequences for environmental justice and climate policies. 

When asked about the hypocrisy of NRDC’s disingenuous equity claims about rooftop solar, citing the Vibrant Energy study that shows rooftop solar reduces costs for all ratepayers, and pointing out that the top reasons electricity rates are increasing are because of infrastructure that investor-owned utilities get a guaranteed return on investment on and fire-related costs, NRDC did not address or refute our points and did not provide any facts to defend the organization’s stance. When we asked why over 100 climate and equity organizations opposed Assembly Bill 1139 yet NRDC was the only “environmental group” supporting it, an NRDC employee responded by insinuating that their organization understood the issue better than traditional environmental organizations, which weren’t aware of what exactly they were signing on to. That is not factual and is an insult to the organizations, now a broad, diverse coalition of more than 350 nonprofits, small businesses, labor unions, faith-based groups and other members, many of which meet on a monthly basis to save rooftop solar.

It is clear that NRDC works to push investor-owned utility agendas, therefore it is extremely dangerous for NRDC to continue being characterized as an environmental organization and utilized by decision makers to pass anti-climate legislation and policies during a climate emergency when we need to move away from fossil fuels and towards zero carbon. We urge legislators, CPUC commissioners and other elected officials to not mistake buy-in from NRDC as buy-in from environmental groups, because NRDC does not represent the vast majority of environmental groups nor do NRDC’s actions show it's truly trying to end climate injustices and the climate crisis. Please help us fight for a more just and livable future by spreading the word and by reaching out to NRDC, asking the organization to support rooftop solar as a solution to reduce climate racism and to slow the impacts of the climate crisis. To join us in protecting rooftop solar, please visit

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Let’s Go! San Diego Transit Relief

Do you live in San Diego County? How satisfied are you with the current state of roads and public transportation? You may be approached, if you have not been already, with these questions by a friendly volunteer in the next few months as the November 2023 deadline to submit measures for the 2024 ballot quickly approaches.

The County’s transit infrastructure has been in decline for many years now. Local governments in the region have poured millions of taxpayers’ dollars into expanding freeways, but we know from looking at Los Angeles and other regions that more lanes increase the number of cars on the road. More cars on the road means more air pollution, which disproportionately burdens the health and well-being of BIPOC communities and communities of concern. 

It’s time for us to come together and create change. Let’s Go! San Diego is a campaign focused on building a better future for local families by delivering essential transportation improvements: reducing congestion, upgrading highway safety, fixing roads and making public transit more reliable and accessible. Some of the other projects that Let’s Go! will fund include:

  • Purple trolley line extending from South County to Sorrento Valley
  • Moving Rail Line connecting to San Diego International Airport
  • Increased service on bus and trolley routes
  • Habitat preservation and stormwater upgrades

Vehicles make up 50 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in California, 80 percent of nitrogen oxide pollution and 90 percent of diesel particulate matter pollution. Thus, an improvement to our transportation system means progress for meeting local and statewide climate goals

So, how will this be funded? The measure proposes a half-cent increase to the County’s sales tax, meaning for every $20 you spend, $0.10 will go towards improving our transit system. Tax increases are not often appealing, however, we wholeheartedly believe that the impact of this measure far outweighs the individual costs. The lack of viable transportation alternatives for County residents limits access to jobs, education, medical offices and recreational facilities. San Diego County needs more and better options, which is why it is crucial that residents bring this measure into next year’s ballot.

The broad coalition supporting this important effort is composed of over 30 nonprofits, unions, environment groups and businesses. Launched by SanDiego350 and the Environmental Health Coalition, this grassroots effort continues to grow in strength. Check out the complete list of endorsements here: Let’s Go! San Diego Endorsements.

If you haven’t signed the petition yet, visit one of the locations here to bring this measure one step closer to becoming a reality. Also, consider joining the campaign to stay up to date on our progress and spread awareness to friends, family and neighbors so that San Diego may deliver long-awaited transit improvements to the County.

Photo Credit: Let’s Go! San Diego

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The Future of Schools is Electric

I (Karen Cederholm, Hammond Climate Solutions Foundation Climate Justice Intern) remember when my high school installed solar panels in its vast and barren parking lot; the blacktop used to capture so much heat you could feel it radiate back up at the end of the day. It was wonderful to see that the empty space was now producing clean energy while also providing shade to student and faculty vehicles during a typical sunny day in San Diego. Now, students from other schools within the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) will be able to see this transition as well as the Board of Education recently passed a fossil fuel free resolution on April 26, 2023 to make all schools in the district fully electric.

Spearheaded by the Schools Team of the San Diego Building Electrification Coalition, which we are members of, activists and students worked effortfully to call upon the Board of Education to commit the district to phasing out the use of fossil fuels. SanDiego350 garnered over 600 signatures on its petition and organized a rally outside of the district office on April 25 before the board meeting, demanding the adoption of a clean energy resolution. Participants also made comments to the board during the meeting, advocating for a fossil fuel free future (check out the Fossil Fuel Free Pledge where businesses, nonprofits, philanthropists and elected officials make this commitment!). With this new resolution, bus fleets and maintenance vehicles currently running on fossil fuels will be phased out, appliances in existing buildings will be replaced with electric ones and a reach code will be established for new construction. A Green Jobs curriculum will also be established to raise awareness of environmentally focused professions, and SDUSD will enroll in San Diego Community Power’s Power100 by the end of 2024, using 100 percent renewable and carbon-free energy.

This transition to clean energy is happening nationwide. The Environmental Protection Agency currently has a Clean School Bus Program running through 2026 that is distributing $1 billion to 389 public and charter school districts, and so far there are over 5,000 committed electric school buses across the U.S. Our own Solar Moonshot Program helps organizations make the switch to solar energy affordable by awarding grants to nonprofits. Solar and storage systems act as resilience hubs for schools and the surrounding community, and so far we have helped 9 solar projects happen across the country. Right now, we have $750,000 to help schools across the U.S. adopt solar power. If you know of an educational institution that wants to go solar but requires additional funding, consider sharing or submitting an application, which is located at the bottom of our Solar Moonshot Program page ( 

Times are changing, and it’s more important than ever for public entities to get behind a green future. These switches are vital to improving the health of students, providing equitable education and reducing the human-carbon footprint that worsens climate change. If you are interested in reading more about climate education and why it matters, check out our previous blog post.

Photo credit: Solar Moonshot Program awardee, School District of West Salem

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Earth Day 2023: Invest in Our Planet

Earth Day is an annual event created to celebrate and be thankful for everything the Earth does for us. It is a time to strengthen our relationship with nature, give back as well as find ways to protect our planet for current and future generations. The theme for Earth Day this year is “Invest in Our Planet.” This theme resonates with me (Danylo Lesko, Hammond Climate Solutions Foundation’s Climate Justice Intern) as a current graduate student because education is the best way to invest in our planet. Education is critical in driving the transition to a sustainable future, providing the tools and resources for future generations to adapt to and address the climate crisis justly and equitably. By increasing the accessibility and quality of environmental education and shaping people’s knowledge, attitudes and behaviors towards the climate crisis, the world will see more effective, equitable and participatory change. Education can encourage people to change their behavior and attitudes and help them make informed decisions. It can empower all people and help motivate our youth to take action. 

Investing in climate education is essential to provide the tools and skills needed to drive a transition to a sustainable world. The climate crisis is magnifying the inequalities present in our societies, requiring innovative solutions that address these vulnerabilities. Investing in environmental and climate education can help change behaviors that harm the environment and transform attitudes and knowledge towards actions that promote positive environmental outcomes. Forward-thinking education needs to adapt to a rapidly changing world and provide future generations with the knowledge and practical skills they need to protect our planet and those who depend on it. Orienting education to include climate action and climate justice are important steps that help provide pathways for greater involvement and societal transformation. Enhancing climate literacy by including climate justice and climate equity will help ensure students develop confidence and passion for making a positive difference in society as activists and leaders. 

The climate crisis has already impacted young people with various concerns about their future, including where they will live, what work they will do and their quality of life. There is no national consensus about the importance of climate education, and the U.S. needs to have national science standards. Instead, each state determines what its schools teach, which can vary significantly between states. In 2012, the Next Generation Science Standards were developed to create a science standard for climate education. However, the standards are voluntary, and only some states have adopted these standards. Climate education allows for people to care for the planet while caring for each other. Social-emotional learning refers to the skills people need to be successful in life, such as goal setting, managing emotions, problem-solving, cultivating empathy, relationship skills and self-awareness. Incorporating social-emotional learning in climate education recognizes that humans are part of nature, helping promote an understanding of environmental justice issues and fostering collaborative problem-solving that addresses both planetary and human needs. Investing in climate education provides pathways for future generations to explore solutions that tackle the challenges of today and tomorrow. Investing in climate education is a way for students not only to learn about the climate crisis, but it also provides an opportunity for students to realize their own agency as climate justice leaders through interdisciplinary approaches rooted in social justice. 

Student leaders in Portland, Oregon helped transform climate education in the Portland Public Schools by advocating for a greater focus on climate and equity in their education. These student leaders helped initiate a climate justice curriculum that highlights climate resilience and how responsive the earth and marginalized and frontlines communities are to the impacts of climate change. Throughout the curriculum, students gain a deep understanding of how intertwined the climate crisis and climate justice really are and the ways both impact every aspect of their lives. A big part of this curriculum is looking at solutions and policy, which gives students an opportunity to identify how they can take action to address climate action and climate justice head on. Such approaches provide students with the background information they need to engage in activism that is very meaningful while providing a way to combat climate anxieties they may feel and empowering students to become transformative racial equity leaders and global stewards. When climate education is rooted in social equity that empowers students to take intersectional approaches that address all aspects of the climate crisis it helps lift up communities that are disproportionately affected, helping lift everyone with them. 

Each of us has the effective power to make our voices heard through the choices we make, our civic actions and personal interactions. What we do and how we do it has a huge impact on the planet and civic society. We can use our power to support actions that protect our environment and investing in education provides a pathway for collective action and transformation! We invite you to celebrate Earth Day this year by supporting climate education in your communities, and what better way than turning learning into action? Find an Earth Day event near you here, join in climate activism and celebrate the accomplishments of advancing climate justice and equity! 

Photo credit: Earth Day

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