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Turning up the Heat for Climate Change Solutions

Michele Roberts | October 4, 2016

This Summer, a dedicated team of environmental justice organizers, advocates, community members and scholars gathered in Wilmington, Delaware to discuss the strengths—and weaknesses—of the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Clean Power Plan (CPP) and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). The soaring July temperatures reminded us that global warming isn't waiting, and neither can we wait to address this crisis. However, our discomfort from the heat was probably only exceeded by the discomfort we felt with the CPP's shortcomings.

40 participants from Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and other states came together for the CPP/RGGI training workshop sponsored by the Environmental Justice Health Alliance, Coming Clean, the Building Equity and Alignment for Impact Initiative, and Delaware Residents Concerned for Environmental Justice. The purpose was to provide basic information on both the CPP and RGGI from a community environmental justice perspective and to create a process for building strong CPP implementation across state lines and regions, and that prioritizes justice for EJ communities. While we applaud President Obama for initiating climate action through the CPP, we also believe that now, more than ever, the people most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and chemical contamination must be directly engaged with EPA, states and local governments in the implementation of CPP and RGGI.

The training workshop resulted in identifying several critical suggestions for improving CPP, like the following:

  • While CPP sets an overall goal for greenhouse gas reductions, it’s carbon trading elements let states meet a reduction goal without mandating the specific amount of reductions at any given facility. That means some of the dirtiest, higher-emitting facilities near people of color and low-income communities could keep polluting at current levels as long as a facility in another location reduces their emissions.
  • The CPP considers energy sources—such as oil and gas, nuclear, biomass incineration, waste to energy, and others as acceptable alternatives to carbon-emitting energy sources, even though those operations are already putting communities in harm’s way.
  • The CPP does not consider cumulative health and safety impacts for people of color and low-income communities. People are being harmed right now by the cumulative impacts of pollutants that have often been regulated separately. EPA should take this opportunity, and every opportunity, to protect the health of our most vulnerable populations by considering these cumulative impacts.
  • Under CPP, states could continue to point fingers at each other to reduce emissions and miss this critical opportunity for all states to reduce greenhouse gases and other co-pollutants to the maximum extent possible.

To effectively tackle global warming, perhaps the most critical issue of our time, we need to act swiftly for climate protection at the state, national and international levels. However, positive actions to reduce carbon emissions don’t have to sacrifice the health or safety of people of color, indigenous peoples, or the poor. In fact, addressing global warming in an equitable manner is addressing global warming in an effective manner.

Environmental justice communities and advocates desire to participate meaningfully in the CPP implementation process. We’re speaking for ourselves and building the strong, diverse partnerships necessary to protect people who are most vulnerable to the immediate and longer-term health hazards and potential displacements resulting from climate change. We hope EPA will step up with us to make meaningful improvements to the CPP.

 

 

Michele Roberts is the Community Outreach Director for Coming Clean, and co-leader of the Environmental Justice Health Alliance. She was born and raised in Wilmington, DE and now lives in Washington, DC.

 

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