Coalition Links Economic Development, Clean Energy

Coalition Links Economic Development, Clean Energy

Greater community participation in energy policymaking likely would ease a host of social and environmental problems associated with energy supply, a coalition has announced.

The Renewable Energy Policy Project, comprised of 50 groups focusing on environmental justice, low-income energy advocacy, clean energy, the environment, enterprise development, job growth, and Indian Country issues, says a little innovation in the U.S. energy sector would go a long way toward healthier communities and a healthier bottom line.

In a resolution, the group points to the need for an increased national commitment to energy efficiency, renewable technologies, and clean fuels to meet mounting economic and environmental threats. Supporting groups range from the Indigenous Environmental Network to Natural Resources Defense Council and the Corporation for Enterprise Development.

According to Larry Chretien, of the Massachusetts Energy Consumers Alliance, one of the signers of the resolution, energy bills account for up to a third of a poor household's expenses.

"When oil and electricity prices rise, low-income communities have to rely on unsteady funding to get by -- and sometimes they must do without," said Chreiten. "That's little security when you need light, heat, and cooling to live. Energy efficiency goes a long way to give citizens that security."

Mathy Stanislaus of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, one of the coalition's member organizations, said children in low-income areas suffer disproportionately from asthma and mercury from energy use, while communities of color are unfairly saddled with big power plants that reduce property values and squeeze out other activities.

"At the same time, large power plants are ready to come into urban neighborhoods that can least resist them. We have a problem on our hands, and it's ready to get worse. It's time to champion alternatives that meet community needs," Stanislaus said.

From California to New York, fossil fuel power plants located in low-income and minority communities are running more to meet power shortages in cities. Calls for more oil supply, rather than reduced demand, are spurring oil refineries to run with reduced maintenance, making the threat of toxic leaks and accidents in neighborhoods worse than before, the coalition said.

"It's a double whammy -- the communities most adversely affected by energy-related pollution are the communities least able to purchase that energy," said Enrique Valdivia of the Esperanza Environmental Justice Project in San Antonio. "We must build a just energy system that cuts energy waste through efficiency programs targeting low income consumers and invests in renewable resources."

"In Indian Country, coal and uranium have been exploited with destructive consequences to both the environment and community health, while Indian people pay disproportionately higher prices for that energy," said Robert Gough of the Intertribal Council on Utility Policy.

"Fortunately we are blessed with wind and solar energy. We can easily harness this energy to create more local jobs while respecting the cultural and spiritual values we place on our land," Gough said.

According to Karl R. Rábago, managing director of the Rocky Mountain Institute and member of REPP's board of directors, renewable energy and energy efficiency can empower communities of all kinds with clean energy solutions.

"They are already in the marketplace, and they can reach even more people through enlightened policies. These technologies-rooftop solar panels, small fuel cells, and efficient air conditioners and appliances-can provide total energy solutions at the right scale, as an alternative to big power plants forced into unwilling communities," Rábago said.

The Good News

The coalition points to successful examples of groups and programs that are finding a way to deliver cleaner and more affordable energy solutions to low-income and minority communities:
  • The Energy Coordinating Agency of Philadelphia educates low-income residents on energy efficiency's financial benefits. ECA informs residents about efficiency in conjunction with local programs dealing with water, job training, and other core issues.
  • The Center for Neighborhood Technology has launched two efforts in Chicago. One program offers energy-efficient appliances through local stores. Another involves the local utility installing community-owned, small-scale generation such as microturbines.
  • Hopi SUN sold and installed solar photovoltaic systems for Hopi residents lacking electricity. The business also exports its services overseas.
To read the resolution, a list of supporting groups, and an extensive fact summary, visit http://www.repp.org.