Clean Power Plan: a discussion all communities must participate in

according_to_usIf you search the #cleanpowerplan you’ll notice it’s dominated by White faces, voices and perspectives. The #cleanpowerplan should be innovative in its approach to combat environmental injustices. Yet conversations are held in spaces where marginalized communities aren’t present.

We need to keep regulating bodies accountable throughout the implementation of the #cleanpowerplan to make sure our communities are being preserved. Environmental injustices aren’t always in your face. You won’t always be able to see the polluting factors. In the overlay of injustices, environmental pollution is often not part of our dialog. We must change that and show the intersectionality in our quest for justice.

The Clean Power Plan will impact all communities. How do we make sure folks who have been disproportionately impacted by environmental issues are a part of shaping what the Clean Power Plan will look like in their state? We must all share in the prosperity and not burden these communities when implementing the plan.

Many environmental advocates, including us, love to emphasize the importance of EJ (environmental justice). What is Environmental Justice? As defined by the Environmental Protection Agency, EJ is, “The fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.”

An interesting aspect of this definition is that it goes beyond the popular understanding and implementation of EJ policies: reducing the historical burden of pollution onto marginalized communities. Instead, the EPA indicates that EJ also includes making sure all people are fairly included in meaningful “involvement, implementation and enforcement” in regards to environmental legislation.

Our generation, often referred to as Millennials, is wielding a tool called social media. With this tool, our generation has been afforded a megaphone loud enough to gain the attention of the world. With such a powerful tool, what insight can be gained from the young voices of our up-and-coming generation in regards to the Clean Power Plan?

Social media is neutral; it can be used in a positive or negative way. It is a source that can be used for us to dialog and get information out in a responsible, accurate and respectful way. It is one vehicle to engage folks around the Clean Power Plan.

But not everyone uses social media. Therefore, we must find other ways to dialog and capture feedback and concerns, so we can implement a Clean Power Plan that doesn’t exclude some, but works for all.

The fact that the Clean Power Plan on Twitter is dominated by Whites holds true towards EJ planning and implementation practices across the U.S. There is a large gap between those that contribute to be the majority of environmental pollutants and those that suffer from the impacts of the pollution.

We also find this gap sustained within the U.S. with the majority of environmental pollution affecting historically marginalized communities: people of a low socioeconomic status and people of color. Communities most affected by pollutants often deal with other racial and economic disparities as well, with often limited resources and time to deal with the myriad disparities their communities face. We must recognize this fact and work to remove the obstacles that keep our folks away from the decision-making table, perpetuating the disparities.

In the same Twitter search, #cleanpowerplan, you’ll also have a hard time finding avenues for meaningful engagement of marginalized communities, let alone Millennials. Such observations are not only disheartening, but also tell the tale of the lack of inclusion in the environmental policy planning and implementation side of environmental policy.

As we noted earlier, this does not adhere to the Environmental Protection Agency’s charge for fair and “meaningful involvement of all people… with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.”

The demand of ‘meaningful involvement’ can sometimes be difficult to accomplish. However, it is necessary and must be done. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency can help meet this task by adopting inclusive practices.

A common problem with this issue is that many people of color who are impacted are not part of the dialog. People of color shouldn’t be left out whether it’s intentional or unintentional. We know what our community and family needs are, and we should have the opportunity to advocate on our behalf.

Creating a process and plan that includes communities of color and low-income communities in the Clean Power Plan is necessary and mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency. If the process does not include these communities, we will only add to the current disparities.

We care about our community and we want all of them to be included in decisions and outcomes that impact us. We must all work together to eliminate obstacles that may impact our ability to come together to create and plan a green economy that benefits us all.

 

If you have questions or would like to get involved in advocacy around environmental justice and the Clean Power Plan, please contact Karen Monahan at karen.monahan@sierraclub.org.

Shiranthi Goonathilaka, Cynthia Harris, and Josh Stewart are interns with the Minnesota Science Museum, Urban Heat Island Project.