Renewables Have Environmental Justice Benefits: Advocates

By Rachel Leven

June 1 — Government officials, energy companies and others should consider the co-benefits of renewable energy use and energy efficiency as part of their planning process, environmental justice advocates said June 1.

While renewables and energy efficiency are widely touted for their carbon dioxide emissions reduction benefits, they also can be a source of jobs and a way to reduce energy bills for low-income communities and communities of color, advocates said at the New Republic's Forum on Climate Justice. And the benefits of clean energy could result in reduced pollution from facilities such as coal-fired power plants, leading to a myriad of additional health benefits, they said.

“When we talk about transforming our energy mix to more renewables, we’re talking to people about sort of eliminating megawatt-hours generated by a polluting power plant that is contributing to the poor air quality that is contributing to the high rates of asthma,” Cecil Corbin-Mark, deputy director of WE ACT for Environmental Justice, said. “We’re talking about replacing that megawatt for a public health benefit.”

As renewable energy generation has increased significantly in recent years, the Environmental Protection Agency has promoted it through programs such as its proposed Clean Energy Incentive Program (RIN:2060-AS84), which is intended to boost investment in renewables and energy efficiency efforts in low-income communities (81 ECR, 4/27/16).

Cecilia Martinez, co-founder and director of research programs at the Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy, said an effective way to ensure that co-benefits—and the appropriate co-benefits, at that—are considered would be to make sure “equity criteria” are made part of energy planning.

The energy sector overall also needs to be decentralized, said Jacqui Patterson, director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's Environmental and Climate Justice Program. Communities of color and low-income communities pay a higher portion of their income toward energy than other populations do, she said.

“That [money] is going to companies that are suppressing environmental regulations that would protect our communities, that are suppressing the advancement of clean energy and energy efficiency, and so forth,” Patterson said. “We want to look at how we can decentralize the energy sector, so that we don’t have those profits being used against our very own communities.”

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