Environmental Justice advocates reiterate the need for community input
The Obama administration in August 2015 announced its Clean Power Plan, which requires each state to put in place a plan to reduce carbon emission for existing coal and natural gas power plants to begin in 2022. Each state was expected to submit a final plan by September, 2016 or request an extension request while working on it, but the U.S. Supreme Court in February temporarily stayed the plan’s implementation until a lower court rules on its merits, which is expected to last at least 18 months.
However since a new president will be elected this November, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) Clean Power Plan Coordinator Melissa Kuskie said she and other state officials are closely watching the presidential campaign. She told the MSR after meeting with environmental justice advocates April 28 at the Minneapolis Urban League in North Minneapolis, “We definitely are looking at the election. The outcome of the presidential election could drastically” affect any clean energy plans, she said.
“The Republican candidates either haven’t expressed a concern or [are in] outright opposition to [clean] power plans. And because this is under the EPA, an executive agency, if a president comes in and doesn’t support the clean power plan, it’s feasible that it will go away,” said Kuskie.
Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton said in a release statement shortly after the high court ruling that Minnesota nonetheless will “keep moving forward” in preparing a clean energy plan.
MPCA Assistant Commissioner David Thonnton told the group that other states have virtually stopped their planning. “There aren’t many states that are doing anything right now. Most have officially put the pen down and [are] not doing anything on their own.”
“I think the Clean Energy Incentive Program (CEIP) is something to be focusing on,” said Kuskie on the plan that is part of the Clean Power Plan. States could provide incentives for “early investments in wind and solar power generation as well as in energy efficiency measures in low-income communities,” continued Kuskie, but CEIP participation is optional for each state.
When asked, Sierra Club Environmental Justice State Coordinator Sharonda Williams-Tack told the MSR that most community folk probably are still unaware of the clean energy plans. “I think it is all about speaking to your audience,” said Williams-Tack. “It is not so much about the clean power plan but what the result looks like. Everyone wants clean air and [to] reduce the effects of global warming, but we must make sure that we have clean, healthy jobs, focusing in on communities that really need jobs. It’s not so much about the clean power plan but it’s a vehicle that gets us to a better place.”
Karen Monahan, an environmental justice organizer proudly pointed out that it was at the MUL in 2013 when she and others began working on the importance of community input in environmental justice issues.
“We met with the Pollution Control Agency and community groups…and wrote a letter that we wanted an environmental justice program for the state of Minnesota,” she recalled. “Since 2013 we have been working on that and what that EJ program would look like. Then we get this clean power plan from the Obama administration. We already had some structure — not perfect, but there was some structure in place that no other state had.”
“There’s still a lot more to talk about,” said Minnesota Public Interest Research Group (MPIRG) organizer Mahyar Sorour. She said all clean power proposals should be seen through an “equitable and racial justice lens” and she advocates for “equitable access to these renewable energy alternatives. It’s a great beginning but a long road ahead of us to really achieve a just transition.”
“How is equity measured” in the state’s clean energy plan was something Janiece Watts of Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC) had hoped to learn from the meeting, she told the MSR. “My question is how [do] we know that equity is being accounted for? With the Supreme Court and all the other agencies’ hands-off approach, how do we keep talking about this?”
Watts said after meeting with Thonnon and Kuskie she was impressed that equity is important to them in putting the plan together. “It was key to me to listen [to them],” she said.
“We are interested in continuing talking,” concluded Thonnton to the MSR when asked if his office will continue meeting with community groups and others for input on the clean energy plan.
In two weeks: Common themes from the MPCA Clean Power community listening sessions.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.