“Foundations” is a series of informal question-and-answer sessions with employees and others affiliated with The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to give them an opportunity to explain their work.

Danielle Deane is an officer with the Foundation’s Environment Program, where she works to broaden California’s environmental movement. Before joining the Foundation, she worked as a financial risk analyst/broker at Guy Carpenter & Company, the international reinsurance arm of Marsh & McLennan Companies. She also performed research for the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and worked as a field manager for a campaign jointly sponsored by the Sierra Club and the Fund for Public Interest Research. Danielle was a 2007-08 Connecting Leaders Fellow of the Association of Black Foundation Executives.

Deane has a B.A. in political economy with an environmental studies concentration from Williams College and a Master of Science degree in environment and development from the London School of Economics.

Why is it important to broaden California’s environmental movement, and why did Hewlett decide to lend a hand?

California has been the nation’s environmental leader, and California’s innovations tend to spread to other states and influence national policy. Hewlett’s efforts sprang from the recognition that the environmental movement in the state hadn’t kept pace with its demographic changes. If you are to have broad-based support for any issues-especially ones that can be particularly tough-you need organizations that are engaged in the broad array of communities that make up California today. We launched the program five years ago and spent a year consulting with experts and groups on the ground before we started making grants.

What we found was that while there were a range of groups committed to environmental issues, the ones representing communities of color were relatively smaller and more grassroots. That made it more difficult for them to compete for grants and be heard by policy makers. We focused on some of the most promising organizations and tried not just to fund their day-to-day work but to learn what they needed in order to grow and become stronger and more effective.

Which Californians have been underrepresented in environmental policymaking?

Four main groups: the medical community, communities of color, labor, and faith-based groups. We’ve paid particular attention to Latino constituencies, who make up the fastest-growing segment of California’s population and are also underrepresented at hearings on environmental issues crucial to their community. But we need to consider all potential supporters, including the Asian communities and the African-American community as well. We are also working with doctors and other health professionals, as well as faith-based communities, and even labor advocates. Each has specific reasons for wanting to improve environmental policies in the state.

Where is the work happening?

Statewide environmental decisions are made in Sacramento, so it’s critical to focus there, but we’ve paid particular attention to the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California regions with some of the worst air pollution in the country.

Are there issues that particularly concern the Californians that grantees represent?

The health impact of air pollution is a big problem. Many of our grantees advocate for communities that suffer the most from air pollution because they live closest to the sources of some of the dirtiest pollution. And while wealthier folks certainly care about these issues and are affected by air pollution, the folks who bear the brunt of its consequences are communities of color in neighborhoods near heavy industry. We also know that doctors have become alarmed by the increase in asthma in patients coming in and by the financial and emotional stress that illnesses caused by pollution put on families. Asthma is now the leading cause of school absences in California. And faith-based communities are particularly concerned about the integrity of the landscape and the inequity of pollution’s impact on Californians.

What are some of the major projects the program’s grantees are working on?

California just became the first state in the nation to set pollution standards for heavy-duty diesel trucks and buses. This was a huge win. Another major target involves the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, which handle 40 percent of all the goods coming into the United States. It’s staggering. There are about 16,000 diesel trucks rumbling in and out of these ports spewing exhaust. And you have residential communities right there, with elevated cancer and asthma rates. By many estimates, these ports are set to double or triple in the volume of goods coming through over the next generation.

Thanks in part to the work of our grantees, the ports now have a Clean Air Action Plan and the country’s only Clean Truck Plan. If the truck plan is implemented as envisioned, it will reduce truck diesel emissions by 85 percent over the next five years.

Another big success was that local organizations partnered with elected leaders on the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District board to successfully argue that two board seats should be permanently designated for scientific and medical experts.

Finally, the recently approved implementation plan for California’s landmark climate bill included safeguards for the state’s most vulnerable communities-protections our grantees had advocated.

How has the program evolved since its founding?

One of the biggest changes is a shift from one-year, project-focused grants to longer-term, general support grants. This recognizes the growing strength and improved strategies of the organizations we initially invested in.

Second, compared to four years ago, there is greater information sharing and coordination between the various organizations, though this is a work in progress. The anchor grantee for this program is now the only environmental organization in the state to have an office in Sacramento as well as in both the San Joaquin Valley and Los Angeles, where it started. The Sacramento office is a resource for any program grantee visiting the Capitol. Grantees are now more consistently involved in state-level environmental policymaking.

What progress do you hope to see over the next five years?

We hope that California’s regions will be on their way to losing their top rankings on the “Worst Places to Breathe” charts. We hope to see more aggressive action on air pollution from leaders in the San Joaquin Valley; real improvement in the air quality surrounding the Southern California ports; and measurable benefits from the Clean Truck Plan. And we would like the state’s efforts to reduce global warming to address those Californians most impacted by its effects.

Last, we hope to see a more diverse and coordinated movement in California, and to have applied the lessons learned in California in support of our environmental goals in other areas of the West. Medical, labor, and faith organizations will be working more closely with environmental justice organizations and more diverse mainstream groups. That’s what will generate the power to sustain California’s leadership in demonstrating that a strong economy and a healthy environment go hand in hand.