Helping The Clean Power Plan Better Serve Frontline Communities

The Clean Power For All Policy Innovation Center

View the Clean Power For All Policy Innovation Center at thecleanpowerplan.com

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) provides the first ever national protections against dangerous carbon pollution from existing power plants. The CPP presents a historic opportunity to not only accelerate America’s transition to a clean energy economy, but also to improve the health, environment, and local economies of communities overburdened by air pollution and the effects of climate change.

For decades, low income communities and communities of color have suffered the brunt of environmental neglect — breathing in dirtier air, and thus having higher rates of asthma, premature deaths, and hospitalizations. The final CPP encourages state regulators to devise plans that not only clean up the pollution in these communities and protect them from the effects of climate change, but also reduce the stifling burden of high electricity costs and develop more economic opportunities in the clean energy economy.

The Clean Power For All Policy Innovation Center was created by a collaborative of environmental, affordable housing, and economic justice groups who are working hard to make sure the health and economic benefits of the CPP reach these communities. Under President Obama’s direction, EPA issued the CPP to tackle the global threat of climate change, by targeting the carbon pollution being spewed out of existing power plants across the country, which account for approximately 40 percent of the U.S.’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The CPP is expected to reduce carbon emissions from the electric sector by 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. EPA estimates that the CPP will avoid 140,000 to 150,000 asthma attacks among children and 2,700 to 6,600 premature deaths.

There is a lot of work all of us must do if the CPP is going to be truly fair and just, especially for low income communities and communities of color. The Clean Power for All Collaborative — which includes the Center for Community Change, Clean Energy Works, Green For All, the National Housing Trust, Partnership for Working Families, People’s Action Institute, Sierra Club, State Innovation Exchange, Union of Concerned Scientists, and the US Climate Action Network — has produced the Clean Power For All Innovation Center to share ideas and suggest policy options to maximize the benefits of the CPP for historically underserved communities.

The toolkit series strongly emphasizes that state plans must focus on those who are most affected by air pollution and climate change in order to comply with the CPP. These state plans must also ensure that polluters clean up their act and limit their pollution. No entity should be allowed to pollute above levels that are safe and carbon prices must reflect the full costs of carbon pollution for our communities and be paid by polluters, not low-income households.

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In addition, the CPP must prioritize investments that benefit the most disadvantaged communities to help rebuild the work, wealth, and health in the places that have historically borne the brunt of environmental inequality. This includes supporting workers and communities affected by the transition away from fossil fuels, dedicating investments to lower electricity costs for consumers, quality green careers, and programs that bring demand-side energy efficiency and renewable energy to the communities on the frontlines of fossil fuel pollution.

The Clean Power For All Policy Innovation Center provides background on critical issues affecting frontline communities, including:

  • For decades, polluting fossil fuel facilities have been disproportionately located in communities of color. For example, 68 percent percent of African Americans live within 30 miles of a coal plant and 80 percent of Latinos live in areas that do not meet federal EPA air quality standards.
  • Pollution in overburdened communities causes families to suffer from decreased life expectancy, increased healthcare costs, decreased home values, and increased exposure to extreme weather and heat-related illnesses.
  • These same communities face crumbling housing stock and high electricity costs. Households earning below the national median spend seventeen percent of their income on energy and often live in aging and inefficient housing. Existing energy efficiency and weatherization programs do not meet communities’ needs and clean energy is largely unavailable due to higher costs. Households earning less than $40,000 per year make up 40 percent of households in the U.S. but make up less than 5 percent of solar installations.

State plans must address the issues confronting communities on the frontlines if they are to be a strong and just implementation of the CPP. Environmental and economic justice concerns are not mutually exclusive. States can accelerate the path toward a clean energy economy and address the effects of climate change, while creating good quality jobs, reducing costs for low income families, and improving health through smart program design. The toolkit series provides decision-makers and advocates with effective options for how to achieve these goals as states limit the dangerous carbon pollution from power plants. It also provides a number of case-studies — concrete examples of policies and programs to engage communities, reduce pollution, expand clean energy, create good jobs, and assist workers that are working in several places across the country.

The toolkit series calls for:

  • Meaningfully engaging frontline communities throughout the process of devising and implementing state plans.
  • Preventing and cleaning up hot spots, and holding polluters accountable to maintaining safe air quality.
  • Ensuring polluters are accountable for their pollution in any carbon pricing system and harnessing that value to help rebuild frontline communities.
  • Investing in programs and projects that begin to reverse the devastation caused by the fossil fuel industry in frontline communities.
  • Creating good, family-sustaining jobs in the clean energy economy and providing pathways to these jobs for affected workers and communities on the frontlines.
  • Addressing the needs of workers and the economic redevelopment of communities affected by the transition away from fossil fuels.
  • Investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy in low-income communities and communities of color to ensure that the burden of high electricity costs is lifted off of economically vulnerable households.

We can no longer wait: people’s lives and livelihoods are at stake. It’s time to focus on rebuilding communities on the frontlines to ensure everyone has access to a healthy environment and economic opportunities.

The Clean Power For All Policy Innovation Center suggests options to decision-makers, regulators, advocates, and organizers for how to address environmental, social, and economic issues in state implementation plans in hopes of ensuring a more fair and just clean energy economy.

The Clean Power for All Collaborative is convened by Green For All and includes Center for Community Change, Clean Energy Works, National Housing Trust, Partnership for Working Families, People’s Action Institute, Sierra Club, State Innovation Exchange, Union of Concerned Scientists, and the US Climate Action Network.