On Earth Day, it is vital we remember how important clean energy and environmental equity are for low-income communities and communities of color. Because when Black and Brown neighborhoods and families are healthy and thriving, our entire country reaps the benefits.
Unfortunately, there are a few groups that advocate against reasonable clean energy policies that benefit communities of color. Coincidently, a number of these groups that spread anti-solar, anti-net-metering messages receive money or support from the utilities and fossil fuels industry.
Fossil Fuel Pollution
This approach, which has been aggressively promoted by Edison Electric Institute (EEI), conveniently ignores that fossil fuel pollution is responsible for 100,000 premature deaths in America each year. That’s in addition to higher rates of certain diseases, higher medical bills, missed school and workdays and lost wages.
Many of these organizations including The Latino Coalition, the National Black Caucus of State Legislators (NBCSL), Hispanics In Energy (HIE) and the Energy Equity Alliance recently signed a letter that seems to advocate for the fossil fuel status quo.
Policies such as the Clean Power Plan will go a long way toward addressing the systemic inequities that plague communities of color. According to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates, “Under the Clean Power Plan, in 2030 alone, the U.S. will avoid up to 90,000 asthma attacks in children and 300,000 missed days of school and work due to respiratory symptoms—saving families the costs of medical treatment and hospital visits.”
Other clean energy policies, such as net metering, provide a crucial way to address climate change while allowing communities of color to experience the economic benefits of a growing green energy economy. A number of independent studies have found that solar net metering greatly benefits African-Americans, Hispanics and low-income families. Those benefits include decreased electricity bills, increased job creation and a reduction in the health consequences of fossil fuel pollution, such as cardiovascular disease, asthma and premature death.
Clean energy policies enjoy widespread support in communities of color. According to a recent study by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Green for All, “83 percent of African-Americans back setting the first-ever limits on carbon pollution from coal and gas-fired power plants under the Clean Power Plan’s standards, which the Environmental Protection Agency finalized in August .”
The study also found that 87% support using more solar power and 83% support more wind energy, while two-thirds of African Americans say using more renewable energy will translate into new jobs.
Net metering is supported by many civil rights organizations such as the NAACP, Voces Verdes, Green for All, Asian Pacific Environmental Health Network and the California LULAC Institute. In 2015, the NAACP passed a clean energy resolution that “supports the ability of residential and business customers to generate their own electricity through solar panels (i.e., distributed generation) as a key pathway to energy democracy.”
And a letter signed last year by 16 civil rights and environmental justice organizations urges the California Public Utilities Commission to continue that state’s net metering program. The letter affirms “A cleaner, more equitable approach to energy will be achieved by continuing to find ways to expand clean energy access, not by weakening effective and successful programs like net metering simply because they are opposed by the utilities.”
History will harshly judge organizations and individuals that advocate against the interests of the communities they purport to represent. Nevertheless, I am optimistic that with the help of engaged communities and groups, we will continue to marginalize organizations such as The Latino Coalition and National Black Chamber of Commerce, among many others, and work to build a strong coalition that not only protects the most vulnerable from the ravages of fossil fuel pollution but also ensures they have full access to the future promise of a healthy, nurturing environment and a green Earth.
Evlondo Cooper is a senior fellow with Checks and Balances Project, a national watchdog blog that seeks to hold government officials, lobbyists, and corporate management accountable to the public. Funding for C&BP comes from pro-clean energy philanthropies and donors.