Rollback of Clean Power Plan is Bad News for Frontline Communities, But Market Forces Keep the Clean-Energy Transition on Track

05/01/2017 09:47 am ET Updated May 01, 2017

Despite Challenges, ECC Continues Building Inclusive High-Road Economies

The People’s Climate March on April 29th in Washington, D.C., (https://peoplesclimate.org) and the numerous citizen marches across the U.S. and the globe on Earth Day this year prompt new consideration of the Trump Administration’s expected but unwelcome intention to roll back the Clean Power Plan (CPP), slash funding for federal environmental programs and possibly withdraw from the Paris climate agreement.

The administration has also signaled its intention to dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Environmental Justice program, whose mandate is ensuring that all communities have the same level of protection from environmental and health hazards, as well as equal access to the decision-making process for a healthful environment in which to live, learn and work.

Such policies are unquestionably bad news for frontline communities, which already experience disproportionate harm from pollution and climate change.

The Trump approach is particularly distressing when contrasted with the Obama Administration’s recognition that climate change is an environmental justice issue and its “requirement that federal officials consider the impact of climate change when making decisions,” in the words of The Washington Post. Instead, The Post bluntly added, the current administration is “hoping to rip that approach out by its roots.” Strong language!

As we have previously written, communities of color are more likely to be in close proximity to pollution-spewing power plants; children of color are much more likely to suffer – and die – from asthma; and communities of color and low-income communities have higher-than-average rates of other pollution-related illnesses, including cancer.

But it’s important to understand that the Trump executive order to undo the CPP is not yet a done deal. For starters a “laborious rulemaking process and a possible legal fight” are applying the brakes, according to The Post.

More recently, The Post said the president was facing pressure from oil, gas and even coal companies to remain a party to the Paris agreement endorsed by almost 200 companies.

Perhaps more importantly, the clean-energy revolution is here to stay. Both the market and public policy are moving steadily and inexorably away from dirty coal and towards clean, renewable energy and increased energy efficiency.

Nearly two years ago, former New York Mayor Michal Bloomberg’s post Obama Didn’t Kill Coal, the Market Did, discussed “the market reality that the coal industry has been in steady decline for a decade…mostly because consumers are demanding cleaner air and action on climate change.” And could there be a more apt metaphor for this transition than the installation of solar panels to power the Kentucky Coal Museum?

The latest data from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Agency (EIA) show declines in annual coal sales, consumption and production. By contrast, DOE’s 2017 U.S Energy and Jobs Report (https://energy.gov/downloads/2017-us-energy-and-employment-report) documents increases in jobs related to energy efficiency, and EIA’s Short-Term Energy Outlook reports continued growth in solar and wind energy generation capacity.

The growth of renewable wind and solar power and their ability to create jobs are reflected in California State Sen. Kevin de León’s (D-Los Angeles) bill requiring the state to get 100 percent of its electricity from clean sources such as solar and wind by 2045. This follows De León previous support for standards doubling the energy efficiency of buildings statewide and putting California on track to generate half of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030.

In Washington state – which leads the nation in hydroelectric power – consumers enjoy some of the most affordable electricity in the country, according to the Institute for Energy Research. Moreover, the state’s Energy Independence Act requires the 17 electric utilities serving at least 25,000 retail customers each (and which provide 81 percent of the electricity sold to retail customers) to use renewable energy and energy conservation.

And community choice aggregation (CCA) is taking hold across the country, allowing utility customers to choose up to 100 percent renewable-energy-powered electricity for their homes and businesses. As of 2014, CCA laws covered 25 percent of U.S. annual electric demand in seven states, according to Local Power, a company that helps governments and utilities set up CCAs, community solar and energy localization programs. An added bonus is that some CCA programs, like the one recently adopted in Alameda County, Calif., mandate community benefits and community input into the program’s structure and governance.

Support for clean energy is coming from the business community as much as from policymakers and environmental advocates. GE CEO Jeff Immelt, for example, is a vocal supporter of clean energy. Just ask Ron Pernick, founder and managing director of Clean Edge, a company that supports the transition to a clean-energy, low-carbon future. Pernick says 84 multinational companies – up from 53 companies a year ago – are members of the RE 100 campaign, a leading group that supports and tracks corporate commitments to 100 percent renewable electricity.

Pernick’s article highlighting 2017’s major clean energy trends looks first at how corporations are “doubling down” on renewable energy goals. The reasons include “the rapid cost decline for solar and wind power, a considerable increase in corporate climate and sustainability goals and the ability of corporations to hedge against fossil fuel price volatility.”

Other trends cited by Pernick include the innovations and “clean energy hope” found in California and elsewhere and the fact that “clean energy jobs remain a major growth industry,” with products such as LED lighting, electric vehicles and solar panels “Made in the U.S.A.”

Sadly, DOE’s jobs report reveals that the energy efficiency sector is “relatively less diverse” than the overall national workforce, employing smaller proportions of people of color and women – a reality that highlights the need for more and better-targeted education and training opportunities.

This reinforces the importance of our work to ensure that communities of color and their residents benefit equitably in all ways from the clean-energy revolution.

As we face today’s realities both hopeful and daunting, we are more committed than ever to our mission of building high-road – sustainable, just and inclusive – economies, nationally and locally.

We will continue pursuing projects that build the health, wealth and climate resilience of low-income communities of color.

With our partners, we will continue advocating for and supporting national, state and local policies that seek those outcomes, including continuation and full funding for EPA’s Environmental Justice program. An important aspect of that work is our collaboration with the Community Learning Partnership, which is dedicated to training the next generation of change agents to organize against policies that particularly harm communities of color.

And as always, we will bring our signature focus on equity inclusion to this critically important work.

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