Climate justice activists on Tuesday held actions at 10 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) branch offices throughout the U.S., calling for stronger safeguards for frontline communities and a "just transition" to a clean energy future.
As the Obama administration rolls out the first-ever guidelines for carbon pollution reduction under the Clean Power Plan (CPP), activists with the Climate Justice Alliance's (CJA) Our Power Campaign met with EPA administrators and held rallies outside of offices in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Dallas, Kansas City, Chicago, Denver, San Francisco, and Seattle to address the implications of the plan for communities most affected by climate injustice.
The CPP requires states to reduce carbon emission 32 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels, among other targets, but activists say the plan and its implementation program ignores the needs of low-income communities and communities of color, which are most often burdened by fossil fuel production—and its devastating consequences.
As Michael Leon Guerrero, CJA national climate director, said ahead of the actions, "This country is completely capable of creating millions of meaningful jobs and putting our communities back to work building the infrastructure we really need to address the climate crisis. And we want to see working families hit hard by the recession, by pollution, and by climate disruption own and control the assets of this new clean energy infrastructure."
Tuesday marks the final day in the public hearings process before states will be required to adopt requisite provisions in the CPP or develop their own plans to hit the mandated targets.
"While the Clean Power Plan does include a few more environmental justice provisions than existed in the first draft, it's still not quite good enough as far as we're concerned," Leila Roberts, an organizer with CJA, told Common Dreams on Monday. "This is the last chance to have a say as a nationwide collection of frontline communities in how this is going to be rolled out."
On the national level, the day of action highlighted the CJA's own vision for an environmentally and economically just policy, called the Our Power Plan, and demanded policymakers "fulfill the true game-changing potential" of the CPP, including:
Ensuring significant representation and decision-making power for communities overburdened by climate impacts;
Working with frontline communities to develop definitions, indicators, and tracking & response systems;
Not incentivizing dirty, extractive energy;
Strengthening worker protections; and
Strengthening the Clean Energy Incentive Program (CEIP) to make sure low-income communities really benefit from energy efficiency and renewable energy.
"In the spirit of 'nothing about us without us,' the Our Power Plan will be used over the coming years as leverage to protect the integrity of the Clean Power Plan (CPP); and to make sure the CPP’s State Implementation Plans adhere to principles of environmental justice," the group stated.
Fossil fuel companies and Republican governors throughout the country have fought relentlessly to prevent and delay implementation of the CPP, which passed last August.
The tools to resist those powers and assist communities in need, CJA says, are already available.
The Clean Power Plan is "a starting point, and it's a good starting point, but in and of itself it's not going to address the climate crisis that we're in right now."
—Sacajawea Hall, Cooperation Jackson
"Instead of investing or permitting those dirty energies to be sustained, what we would really love to see is money coming from the Clean Energy Investment Program, which is part of the Clean Power Plan's mandate, to go directly to frontline communities, communities that are affected by pollution and by joblessness," Roberts said.
That includes Jackson, Mississippi, where government officials have resisted compliance with the CPP, and where the coal industry's exploitative extraction practices are prominent throughout the state, said Sacajawea Hall, a founding member of the cooperative network organizationCooperation Jackson.
The group is working to empower Mississippi's frontline communities by investing in sustainable community development and ownership—including building an eco-village housing cooperative. For communities of color in Mississippi, Hall told Common Dreams on Tuesday, "the power plants are in their backyards."
"If this is about us, then it needs to include us," Hall said. Tuesday's actions are "an opportunity...to highlight what's taking place today and make the connection on a local level. We are really set up for a struggle to have the CPP implemented in Mississippi, and in a meaningful way that includes engaging the public."
The CPP is "a starting point, and it's a good starting point, but in and of itself it's not going to address the climate crisis that we're in right now," Hall said.
Certain loopholes within the plan would still enable fossil fuel companies to "dig, burn, dump in our communities," she continued. "We can't talk about [emission] reduction without talking about equity. There are issues that are intersecting with climate change and carbon emissions, like jobs, like food. It's about recognizing there's a structure in place which places our communities at greater risk and so that has to be taken into account when we're talking about how the plan is actually going to reach those communities."
To that end, organizers remained hopeful.
It's "both a challenge to the EPA to do better by frontline communities, but in a sense it's also a vote of support," CJA's Roberts said. "This is necessary as an overall approach. We do want it to happen, we just want it to happen well."
As Hall explained, "The 'extractive economy' isn't only about mass energy corporations. Our labor is being extracted as well as the resources from our communities. Being able to talk about creating a solidarity economy, worker-owned cooperatives, and environmentally sustainable practices and production is really important to us. The climate crisis is a symptom of a deeper problem."