“[Environmental justice] was important to Laphonza because we represented women of color and low-wage workers living in areas where the air isn’t the best, the water isn’t the best,” said current SEIU 2015 executive vice president Carmen Roberts. “So that was certainly one of our justice agenda items.”

Numerous environmental groups released statements in the aftermath of Butler’s appointment, including California Environmental Voters, whose political and organizing director Mike Young called her a “known advocate” and said the group looked “forward to working with her on the progressive values she’s represented throughout her career.”

But none of the statements from California-based environmental groups, including EnviroVoters, said anything about Butler’s environmental achievements. None agreed to an interview with KQED, either, saying they couldn’t speak to her climate record.

Her appointment could set up her now-counterpart, Sen. Alex Padilla, to be the more active member of the California delegation in the Senate on climate change. Prior to his time in office, Padilla served for six years as chair of California’s Committee on Energy, Utilities, and Communications, where he led efforts on renewable energy and climate policies. As a senator, he co-sponsored the Green New Deal and now serves on the Environment and Public Works Committee.

But Democratic strategist Maviglio — who worked with Butler during her time at SEIU — isn’t counting her out.

“She may emerge as a[n environmental] leader because she knows how important it is to California and to the governor,” he said.

And in fact, he said, she could bring a fresh perspective to the issue.

“She’s fought all her life for poor people and people living in urban areas, and I think more and more we see how climate is affecting those very same constituencies,” he said. “So I think you’ll see her rise up, particularly on environmental justice issues, and be an outspoken force for those in the Senate.”