New York Leads U.S. in Vulnerable People Near Plants

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By Rachel Leven

Sept. 3 — New York, California and New Jersey are the states with the largest number of “vulnerable” individuals—low-income, minority and indigenous communities—living near a power plant affected under the Clean Power Plan, according to a Bloomberg BNA review.

These states have more than 17 million individuals total that live within three miles of a power plant—nearly half of the national total, according to Environmental Protection Agency estimates— with 9.3 million in New York, 5.3 million in California and 2.8 million in New Jersey. The EPA estimates that 36.3 million people nationwide live within 3 miles of a power plant.

Minorities make up 55 percent, 65 percent and 59 percent, respectively, of New York, California and New Jersey's populations near power plants, while low-income individuals make up 36 percent, 38 percent and 35 percent, respectively, of New York, California and New Jersey's populations near power plants.

Every state affected by the EPA’s Clean Power Plan must engage with vulnerable communities as part of development of individual state power plans. These numbers provide a unique glimpse into what populations are most directly affected by the 1,042 power plants’ emissions but shouldn't, according to advocates, be used to determine which states focus more attention on the environmental justice aspects of their plans.

“You can have a small amount of folks that are in a community that are being impacted just as heavily as a large community that is more urban and more dense,” Jalonne White-Newsome, director of federal policy for WE ACT for Environmental Justice, told Bloomberg BNA. “I don’t want to give the impression that size of the population should make one community more important than the other.”

Clean Power Plan

The final Clean Power Plan (RIN 2060-AR33) rule sets unique carbon dioxide emission rates or alternatively mass-based targets for states’ power sectors, leaving states to develop their own plans to meet those targets.

Justice advocates are concerned that state plans could result in some power plants increasing activity, and thereby risks, near these vulnerable communities, resulting in fewer benefits for already overburdened communities than for the general population.

The data used by Bloomberg BNA are part of the EPA’s power plant proximity analysis, intended for state and community use during the plan development process. A main purpose is to assist communities in identifying useful data, including census data, that “requires expertise that some community groups may lack,” the rule said, and is a good starting point for the planning process, White-Newsome said.

The numbers identified by the EPA and analyzed by Bloomberg BNA come with a lot of caveats, including the potential that individuals may be double counted in certain circumstances. These numbers also only delineate populations within a three mile radius of a power plant; however, those outside of the immediate facility vicinity also are affected, the rule said.

States Ranked 

New York, California and New Jersey have the most minority and low-income individuals living near their power plants.

Out of the about 9.3 million individuals who live within three miles of one of the 55 power plants in New York, roughly 5.1 million are minorities. Roughly 3.3 million are low-income individuals.

Meanwhile, California has 5.3 million people who live within three miles of one of its 77 power plants. Of those, roughly 3.5 million are minorities, and about 2 million are low-income individuals.

An estimated 2.8 million people live within the three-mile radius of New Jersey’s 24 power plants, with about 1.6 million minorities and roughly 966,000 low-income individuals in those areas.

Some areas that have significantly fewer people living near power plants across a given state have a disproportionately higher percentage of minority or low-income individuals occupying that category than the rest of the population.

Navajo Nation-Region 6 

For example, only 239 people live within three miles of the one power plant identified in Navajo Nation-Region 6. Ninety-nine percent of those individuals are minorities—or roughly 237 people—and 57 percent of those people are considered low-income—about 136 people.

Those are the highest concentrations for any state of low-income and minority individuals, respectively, who live within three miles of a state’s power plants.

Also, states with the most power plants don’t necessarily have the most people overall living near them.

Some states such as Texas, for example, have far more power plants—Texas has 114 identified by the EPA—but fewer people living near the power plants over all. Roughly 1.7 million people live within three miles of a Texas power plant, 1.1 million of whom are minorities and 843,000 of whom are low-income.

Value of Numbers 

The numbers of vulnerable individuals living near power plants in a given state “is kind of an indicator that this is an area or location that [the state] might need to pay more attention to,” White-Newsome said. However, she added “sometimes the data tells only part of the story.” For example, emissions affect people beyond a three-mile radius, but the study areas only encompass people within three miles of the power plants.

Jacqueline Patterson, environmental and climate justice program director for the NAACP, emphasized that it just isn't the number of people who matter but also the number of communities that is important to ensuring that all constituencies of an affected area have a voice in the planning process.

“To some extent, my view is that no matter how many people are being impacted there should be equal attention paid to community voices and community engagement,” Patterson said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Rachel Leven in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at

The “EJ Screening Report for the Clean Power Plan” is available at