Promote Climate Equity

“The San Juan that we knew yesterday is no longer there.”

SAN JUAN MAYOR CARMEN YULÍN CRUZ4

 

THE PROBLEM

 Human beings are a part of the natural world: We all need clean air, water, and land in the communities where we live and raise our children. Yet corporate interests have put our health and environment at risk by continuing to extract, peddle, and burn fossil fuels. Skewed policies and dependence on yesterday’s technologies have long put communities of color directly in the line of impact, from roads with heavy truck traffic that increase the rates of asthma, to hurricanes and wildfires that threaten and displace communities, to pipelines that are routed through Native lands and near other communities of color. While communities of color bear a disproportionate burden of environmental ruin, just 100 companies are responsible for 71 percent of the global fossil fuel emissions that are destroying our communities and our climate.5 These companies profit despite both the chronic deterioration they cause in our communities and the natural disasters that result, directly or indirectly, from fossil fuel pollution they emit. With little hope for immediate, comprehensive federal action, state leadership on climate change needs to expand and accelerate rapidly. 

In 2017, climate-change disasters directly hit the United States: One of the worst Atlantic hurricane seasons on record devastated parts of Texas and Florida, as well as Puerto Rico and other islands; a record number of wildfires raged in California; and coastal communities from Massachusetts to the Pacific Northwest faced continuing threats to their fisheries due to ocean acidification, another effect of climate change. In Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, U.S. citizens remained without power months after the storm. This past year was also the second hottest year on record globally.6 Scientists have reached consensus: Human-caused global warming due to greenhouse gas emissions is a major driver of these destructive forces.

These environmental crises create economic emergencies. The 2017 hurricane season caused an estimated $200 billion in damages in Southeast Texas and South Florida, to say nothing of the U.S. island territories. In the long run, higher temperatures alone (not including severe weather events) will cause U.S. economic growth to fall by more than 30 percent by the end of the 21st century, and without aggressive action on climate change, the median wealth of the children of today’s millennials is projected to shrink dramatically.7

Despite the profound and already immediate risks of ignoring climate change, the Trump administration and federal lawmakers appear poised to prevent federal action, to step back from existing efforts to reduce global warming, and to pivot to expanding domestic fossil fuel extraction and pollution to new heights.

As a result, the responsibility for climate action now sits squarely with states and localities. Leadership on climate change is now in the hands of governors, state legislators, mayors, and city councils. The opportunities for states and cities to act are particularly promising because they are better positioned to tailor specific policies for their regional climate challenges and diverse political landscapes. Further, by centering fairness in their strategies, states and cities can make significant advances against climate change that also increase equity in their region, by prioritizing the communities and people most exposed to climate pollution and climate risks—communities of color, in a majority of states—in their policy design.

 

POLLING DATA

  • 75% of Americans support regulating carbon in the atmosphere as a pollutant.8
  • 80% of Americans prefer to see revenue from a carbon tax (were Congress to pass one) invested in clean energy, rather than spending the money on tax cuts or household rebates.9
  • 50% of Latinos say they would participate in a campaign to press elected officials to act on climate change.10
  • 83% of African Americans supported President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which requires states to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the power sector. 57% believe their energy bills will go down in the transition to clean energy. 11

 

POLICY SOLUTIONS

Limit fossil fuel pollution to slow climate change and ramp up climate solutions that stabilize our nation’s long-term economic and public health outlook, create millions of good jobs of the future, and stimulate investments in the front-line communities that need investment the most. States should pursue policies based on the types of energy they use and the kind of exposure to climate change they face.

 

Ending or Limiting the Extraction of Fossil Fuels

  • Minimize the expansion of fossil fuel extraction in U.S. coastal waters. Early in 2018, the Trump administration proposed opening up more than 90 percent of U.S. coastal waters to oil and gas drilling. Already, governors or relevant agencies in at least 23 of the 32 states or territories affected have expressed opposition to the proposal. States should pursue legal remedies through federal laws such as the Coastal Zone Management Act, which gives states power to challenge federal policies that conflict with their own coastal management plans. 

  • Ban the extraction of natural gas. A good model is New York State’s 2014 ban on hydraulic fracturing (fracking), which is anchored in the state’s authority to limit activities posing demonstrable risks to public health. States that do not completely ban fracking should develop strict regulations to prevent leakage from drill sites and pipelines and to ensure protection of aquifers and other water resources from fracking contamination.

  • Protect public and tribal lands from oil and gas drilling. Short-term and short-sighted drilling profits cannot outweigh the long-term environmental and recreational value of conserving our public lands for future generations. Where possible, states and local jurisdictions should work with tribal nation governments to protect tribal lands from fossil fuel extraction and infrastructure development. 

  • Stop harmful fossil fuel pipelines. States can make full use of their environmental review and public health laws to evaluate the full impact of interstate fossil fuel pipeline development over its entire life cycle. 

    Equitably Accelerating the Clean Energy Transition

  • Adopt or strengthen renewable portfolio standards. A renewable portfolio standard requires electricity providers to increase the percentage of electricity available to households and businesses that comes from renewable sources, such as solar, wind and hydroelectric energy. Currently, 29 states have enforceable renewable portfolio standards, although many could be strengthened.12  Some states have also expanded the reach of their standards by requiring municipalities and other regulated entities to adopt their own renewable energy targets.

  • Establish state targets for investments in the clean energy economy. States should invest in renewable energy, energy efficiency, electric vehicle infrastructure, mass transit, and land-use policies, such as reforestation, that reduce carbon in the atmosphere. States should follow the lead of NY Renews’ Climate and Community Protection Act and stipulate that at least 40 percent of public investment toward these goals is targeted for low-income, environmentally vulnerable communities. 

  • Put a price on greenhouse gas emissions and use the revenue to fund the transition to clean energy. Depending on their current energy mix, states should impose a starting pollution price of $15-$40 per ton of emissions (rising annually), with a focus on fossil fuel extraction, energy and fuel imports, and pollution from power plants, industry and other sources. States should follow a “price-and-reinvest” model, where the revenue from the polluter fee funds the investments needed to meet emissions targets. To protect public health, states should also set prices for harmful pollution other than greenhouse gases and carefully monitor emissions trends, particularly in the most polluted areas.

    The New York Renews policy platform is the leading example of such an approach. In Washington State, a somewhat different price-and-reinvest approach may be on the ballot in 2018. States should be cautious about a “cap-and-trade” approach to carbon pricing, which directly caps emissions levels statewide and provides tradeable allowances to polluters. Effective cap-and-trade policies may be possible, but states should be aware that California’s cap-and-trade program, among the world’s largest, appears to be failing to reduce emissions in low-income communities.13 

  • Promote inclusive financing of clean energy access for low-income households. States where carbon pricing or other sources of new revenue may take longer to materialize can implement a Pay As You Save model (PAYS), where utilities or third parties provide up-front funding for solar installations or energy-efficiency upgrades, which customers then pay back by way of a tariff on their energy bills. The key is that the repayment rate is set lower than the energy savings rate generated by the investment. This allows the customer to participate in the clean-energy transition on a net gain basis, eventually enjoying the full value of her energy savings once the upfront costs are paid off. PAYS-type models have been particularly successful in rural regions, working with utility co-ops. Another, more fiscally direct example is AB 693 in California, which is allocating $1 billion of cap-and-trade revenue over 10 years to subsidize rooftop solar for affordable housing residents. 

  • Promote community ownership of renewable energy assets. Approximately 900 non-profit, member-owned electric utility cooperatives, mostly in rural areas, already embody one form of community ownership in the energy sector. Another alternative ownership form is public ownership, typically at the municipal level, where a city owns a power plant and/or a utility that serve its residents. Perhaps most promising from an equity standpoint is community ownership in small-scale distributed generation of energy, for example a neighborhood solar power plant cooperatively owned by residents and/or community organizations. To promote community ownership, state policymakers should implement laws creating price mechanisms that favor community-owned energy; revisions of securities law to accommodate various kinds of cooperative energy ownership; and repurposing of existing clean energy tax breaks into grants for non-taxable entities such as non-profits.

     

    Building resiliently and recovering responsibly from disaster.

  • Build statewide and local power to insure equitable disaster recovery and adaptation/resiliency strategies. The most storm-exposed states should develop or strengthen bottom-up modes of developing policy for disaster recovery and climate adaptation. For example, states could encourage community-planning commissions where local leaders and residents are empowered to determine or substantially inform statewide and municipal recovery and adaptation strategies. Part of this state and local empowerment should include developing screening tools that put the poorest residents and the most impacted communities first in line for recovery aid and adaptation investments. This bottom-up, progressive approach to recovery and adaptation should be integrated in planning and funding for flood protection, disaster preparedness, climate-sensitive new development, clean transportation, as well as urban forestry, walkability plans, and other strategies for mixing climate and health benefits.

     

    HOW TO TALK ABOUT IT

  • Today our country can support clean, renewable energy that protects our families’ health and creates new jobs while holding corporations accountable for the pollution they dump into our air. Their pollution is making us sick and wrecking our climate. We need to put the health of our families and communities ahead of polluters’ profits.

  • Moms and dads worried for their children’s futures, workers and folks out of work who want good jobs, families who have lost their loved ones and homes in climate disasters, we all have a personal stake in tackling climate change. It’s past time to invest in affordable, renewable energy in our communities and create local jobs by making corporate polluters pay their fair share for the damage they’re doing to our health and our climate. We cannot wait any longer to harness this huge opportunity for winning on climate change and making life better in our communities.

  • States can lead the way in getting our country on track to seize the opportunity to improve health, create jobs, and build community around the transition to clean power and clean transportation.  States can limit the extraction of fossil fuels and ensure that our shared natural resources are not put up for auction for the benefit of corporate polluters.

  • We need an equitable transition to clean energy. Greenhouse gas pollution hits low-income communities and communities of color the hardest, so it is important that we have an inclusive approach to the transition, putting the hardest hit communities first.

 

HOW IT WORKS

  • Creating a low-carbon economy creates millions of good new jobs and sustainable economic growth instead of dirty and destructive growth. In New York State, for example, investing $30 billion annually toward 100 percent renewable energy will create roughly 150,000 new jobs annually over a decade. Since 2009, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI)—a Northeast cap-and-trade program—has generated 30,000 job years.14 Each job-year is equivalent to one year’s work.
  • Action on climate improves public health. RGGI saved hundreds of lives and drove health improvements worth approximately $5.7 billion between 2009 and 2014. Phasing out coal plants in Ohio and Pennsylvania will reduce substantial social costs, which in 2015 totaled 4,400 lives and $38 billion annually. 15
  • Keeping fossil fuels in the ground reduces public health risks and favors renewable energy, accelerating the transition.
  • Reduced energy consumption due to heightened energy efficiency will drive down emissions and costs for consumers. In HUD’s Green Retrofit Program, lifetime savings exceed costs by 20 percent.
  • Community ownership of energy in low-income communities could help close racial wealth gaps by enabling residents to sell their excess energy back into the mainline grid.
  • Preparing for future disasters and other climate impacts will reduce their monetary and human costs. Action on climate also gives us the opportunity to repair the historical wrongs of the fossil fuel economy by putting working-class communities of color at the center of climate policy. By committing to an equitable and inclusive transition, we will repair instead of reproduce the glaring inequalities of the old economy.

 

MORE RESOURCES

 

ENDNOTES


  1. Aric Jenkins, “See What Puerto Rico’s Blackout Looks Like From Space,” Time, September 26, 2017, http://time.com/4957119/puerto-rico-hurricane-maria-power-outage-photos/. 
  2. Paul Griffin, The CDP Carbon Majors Report, CDP, 2017. https://www.cdp.net/en/articles/media/new-report-shows-just-100-companie...
  3. “2017 Was the Second Hottest Year on Record,” Visible Earth (Greenbelt, MD: NASA, January 18, 2018), https://www.visibleearth.nasa.gov/view.php?id=9160.
  4. The Price Tag of Being Young: Climate Change and Millennials’ Economic Future, Dēmos and NextGen Climate, August 2016. http://www.demos.org/publication/price-tag-being-young-climate-change-an....
  5. Nadja Popovich, et. al., “How Americans Think about Climate Change, in Six Maps,” The New York Times , March 21, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/03/21/climate/how-americans-thi....
  6. Matthew J. Kotchen, Zachary M. Turk, and Anthony A. Leiserowitz, “Public Willingness to Pay for a US Carbon Tax and Preferences for Spending the Revenue,” Environmental Research Letters, September 13, 2017, http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/aa822a.
  7. See infographic at http://climatecommunication.yale.edu/visualizations-data/half-latinos-pa....
  8. Green for All press release, November 4, 2015, https://www.greenforall.org/poll_shows_african_americans_strongly_back_c....
  9. Jocelyn Durkay, State Renewable Portfolio Standards and Goals, National Conference of State Legislatures, 2017.
  10. Lara J. Cushing, et. al. A Preliminary Environmental Equity Assessment of California’s Cap-and-Trade Program, Program for Environmental and Regional Equity, September, 2016. http://dornsife.usc.edu/PERE/enviro-equity-CA-cap-trade.
  11. Paul J. Hibbard, et. al., The Economic Impacts of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative on Ten Northeast and Mid-Atlantic States: Review of the Use of RGGI Auction Proceeds from the First Three-Year Compliance Period, The Analysis Group, 2011. http://www.analysisgroup.com/uploadedfiles/content/insights/publishing/e...
  12. A NextGen Climate study of Ohio and Pennsylvania found that in 2015, power plant pollution alone caused 4,400 deaths and generated health care costs upward of $38 billion. Study summary: https://nextgenpolicy.org/blog/our-air/.