Climate Justice activists to EPA: make Clean Power Plan work for fossil fuel afflicted communities!

The smokestack of the now-defunct Fisk Generating Station spewing soot, sulfur and mercury over Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, and elsewhere, January 2012. Photo: Seth Anderson via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA).
The smokestack of the now-defunct Fisk Generating Station spewing soot, sulfur and mercury over Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, and elsewhere, January 2012. Photo: Seth Anderson via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA).
While the fossil fuel industry and Republican states and senators step up legal and political challenges to Obama's Clean Power Plan, protests have also been flooding in to the EPA's ten regional offices from climate activists - demanding that it cut out dirty biofuels and 'carbon trading' loopholes, and protect vulnerable communities from fossil fuel pollution.
We appreciate the integrity of the Clean Power Plan. However, we believe it needs to be improved - from eliminating carbon trading to excluding dirty biofuels and ensuring that there's equity. We want to improve it by adding our voices and our plan.

Last week, activists at each of the Environmental Protection Agency's ten regional offices issued their own corrective on the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan.

Days before the end of the federal comment period, the Climate Justice Alliance's Our Power Campaign - comprised of 41 climate and environmental justice organizations - presented its Our Power Plan.

The document identifies "clear and specific strategies for implementing the Clean Power Plan, or CPP, in a way that will truly benefit our families' health and our country's economy."

Introduced last summer, the CPP looks to bring down power plants' carbon emissions by 32% from 2005 levels within 15 years. The plan was made possible by Massachusetts vs. EPA, a 2007 Supreme Court ruling which mandates that the agency regulate greenhouse gases as it has other toxins and pollutants under the Clean Air Act of 1963.

Under the CPP, states are each required to draft their own implementation plans by September of this year, or by 2018 if granted an extension. If they fail to do so, state governments will be placed by default into an interstate carbon trading, or 'Cap and Trade', system to bring down emissions.

After COP21, OPP is the next logical step

Michael Leon Guerrero, the Climate Justice Alliance's interim coordinator, was in Paris for the most recent round of UN climate talks as part of the It Takes Roots Delegation, which brought together over 100 organizers from North American communities on the frontlines of both climate change and fossil fuel extraction.

He sees the Our Power Plan (see goals, below) as a logical next step for the group coming out of COP21, especially as the onus for implementing and improving the Paris agreement now falls to individual nations:

"Fundamentally we need to transform our economy and rebuild our communities. We can't address the climate crisis in a cave without addressing issues of equity."

The Our Power Plan, or OPP, is intended as a blueprint for governments and EPA administrators to address the needs of frontline communities as they draft their state-level plans over the next several months. (People living within three miles of a coal plant have incomes averaging 15% lower than average, and are 8% more likely to be communities of color.)

Included in the OPP are calls to bolster what CJA sees as the CPP's more promising aspects, like renewable energy provisions, while eliminating proposed programs they see as more harmful. The CPP's carbon trading scheme, CJA argues, allows polluters to buy 'permissions to pollute', or carbon credits, rather than actually stemming emissions.

The OPP further outlines ways that the EPA can ensure a "just transition" away from fossil fuels, encouraging states to invest in job creation, conduct equity analyses and "work with frontlines communities to develop definitions, indicators, and tracking and response systems that really account for impacts like health, energy use, cost of energy, climate vulnerability [and] cumulative risk."

The all-too predictable fightback

Lacking support from Congress, the Obama administration has relied on executive action to push through everything from environmental action to comprehensive immigration reform. The Clean Power Plan was central to the package Obama brought to Paris. Also central to COP21 was US negotiators' insistence on keeping its results non-binding, citing Republican lawmakers' unwillingness to pass legislation.

Predictably, the CPP has faced legal challenges from the same forces, who decry the president for having overstepped the bounds of his authority. Republican state governments, utility companies, and fossil fuel industry groups have all filed suit against the CPP, with many asking for expedited hearings.

Leading up the anti-CPP charge in Congress has been Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has called the plan a "regulatory assault", pitting fossil fuel industry workers against the EPA. "Here's what is lost in this administration's crusade for ideological purity", he wrote in a November statement, "the livelihoods of our coal miners and their families."

Organizers of last Tuesday's actions, however, were quick to point out that the Our Power Plan is aimed at strengthening - not defeating - the CPP as it stands. Denise Abdul-Rahman, of NAACP Indiana, helped organize an OPP delivery at the EPA's Region 5 headquarters in Chicago, bringing out representatives from Black Lives Matter Minneapolis, National People's Action and National Nurses United.

"We appreciate the integrity of the Clean Power Plan", she said. "However, we believe it needs to be improved - from eliminating carbon trading to ensuring that there's equity. We want to improve CPP by adding our voices and our plan, and we encourage the EPA to make it better." Four of the six states in that region - which includes Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin - are suing the EPA.

Endorsed by the National Domestic Workers' Alliance, Greenpeace and the Center for Popular Democracy, among other organizations, the national day of action on the EPA came as new details emerged in Flint, Michigan's ongoing water crisis - along with calls for Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder's resignation and arrest.

The EPA has also admitted fault for its slow response to Flint residents' complaints, writing in a statement this week that "necessary [EPA] actions were not taken as quickly as they should have been." Abdul-Rahman connected the water crisis with the need for a justly-implemented CPP:

"The Flint government let their community down by not protecting our most precious asset, which is water. The same is true of air: we need the highest standard of protecting human beings' air, water, land."



Kate Aronoff is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer, the Communications Coordinator for the New Economy Coalition, and a co-founder of the Fossil Fuel Divestment Student Network. Her writing has appeared in The Nation, The American Prospect, Dissent and The New York Times.

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was originally published by Waging NonViolence under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.



Appendix: Our Power Plan goals

What the EPA and the states can do to fulfill the true game-changing potential of the Clean Power Plan:

Inclusion. Ensure significant representation and decision-making power for communities overburdened by climate impacts and the EPA's Clean Power Plan including communities of color and low-income communities.

Measure what matters. Work with frontline communities to develop definitions, indicators, and tracking & response systems that really account for impacts like health, energy use, cost of energy, climate vulnerability, cumulative risk, etc.

Do not incentivize dirty, extractive energy. Biomass and waste incineration should not qualify as non-emitting sources of energy. And in a 20-year life-cycle time horizon, natural gas is even dirtier and more dangerous than coal.

Strengthen worker protections. Require states to meet the highest standards for good jobs created through investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy. Do more to support worker transition for those affected by the shift away from coal.

Strengthen the Clean Energy Incentive Program (CEIP) to make sure low-income communities really benefit from energy efficiency and renewable energy. Read the full Our Power Plan for specifics on trading schemes; early investments; including community infrastructure like nonprofits and small businesses; and accounting correctly for race and income. And all states should be required to participate in the CEIP.

Strengthen renewable energy provisions in a variety of ways:

  • increase set-asides from 5% to 20%+;
  • make sure renewable energy projects aren't just located in low-income neighborhoods, but directly serve energy to and are owned or leased by people in these communities;
  • remove the administrative and financial barriers that stand in the way of community-owned, small-scale distributed wind and solar renewable energy generation;
  • protect the healthy market for renewable energy that is voluntarily purchased by businesses and households nationwide;
  • and when allowances go unclaimed, it's better to use the cash for clean energy jobs rather than handing the allowances over to fossil fuel plants.

Invest more in real, clean renewables, jobs, and health... not carbon trading. Carbon trading is a regulatory compliance tactic, but it doesn't deal with the root causes of pollution and climate disruption. Vulnerable communities bear the brunt of harm-from dirty energy extraction to waste-and shuffling around "permissions to pollute" doesn't change that. The EPA knows that EJ communities are also the most vulnerable to potential abuses and systemic fail­ures of the carbon markets.

  • When a company buys credits or allowances because its plant is in jeopardy of violating pollution limits, those polluting plants tend to sit in our
  • They are also a way of transferring wealth from rate-payers in heavily polluted places to investors who create new clean energy jobs and better health conditions elsewhere

We will do better as a nation by de-emphasizing carbon markets and investing more heavily in an energy infrastructure based on real clean, renewable, non-extractive sources like wind and solar.

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