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same communities that have been losers in the fossil fuel economy—think West
Virginia coal towns and inner cities in refinery shadows—need to be the spots
where small-scale clean energy takes hold, said experts on Thursday.
energy development has long been cast as key to slowing climate change. But
there's another way to look at it: the best lever to lift the heavy burden of
pollution that fossil fuels impose on communities, often heavily minority, in
the coal jobs aren't coming back. And refineries tend to import pollution and
the gist from a group of energy and social justice experts tackling
"energy justice" in a suddenly transformed political climate. The
issue, much like social justice, frames energy as a currently helping the
haves, and harming the have-nots.
places are “overburdened by pollution and have been excluded from economic
benefits and are at the deep end of growing inequality in our country. That
level of inequality is not good for anyone,” said Miya Yoshitani, executive
director of the Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN) based in Oakland,
by the Post Carbon Institute think tank, a group dedicated to sustainable and
resilient communities, the event was shadowed by looming cuts to the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency, President Obama's Clean Power Plan and other
efforts to curb both emissions and fossil fuel development in the wake of
President-elect Donald Trump's surprising win Tuesday.
the election "doesn’t change the long-term course of where we need to go.
We need to remake our economy around clean energy … who wins who loses, put
those decisions back into the communities,” said Timothy DenHerder Thomas,
general manager of Cooperative Energy Futures in Minneapolis.
Yoshitani said local, community-based leadership is needed now more than ever
to build the next economy—one that doesn’t pollute poor people, and send the
money to rich people elsewhere.
fossil fuels out of the ground, processing them, refining them and burning
them, every piece of that … low income communities, communities of color, are
at the brunt of that pollution,” she said.
Calif.’s, Chevron refinery is a prime example of energy injustice along racial
lines. The 115-year-old refinery looms over a historically black community that
also has vibrant populations of Laotians and other immigrants.
child asthma rate in Richmond is more than double the national average. A 2012
refinery fire sent 15,000 people to the hospital.
not just health: Richmond also gets the short end of the economic stick too,
Yoshitani said. “The local economy is stuck in dependency on the major
refinery, which is also displacing other, more sustainable economic
opportunities for that community,” she said.
said the first step to breaking this cycle is a rethinking of what effective
economic progress looks like.
decades “scale meant doing each thing bigger and bigger – that’s how you got
cost effectiveness … power plants, as well as highways, corporations,” he said.
of this thinking is present in the current renewable energy landscape, he said.
Much renewable energy development today happens "through large
centralized, corporate ownership. It wastes a huge amount of the potential of
instance, federal and state policies encourage renewable energy development
largely via tax credits that primarily benefit large investors with large
community focused energy projects—solar gardens, cooperatives, microgrids—offer
a better way forward but can't capture important credits, Thomas and Yoshitani
community ownership “energy is no longer this one way street—energy is pumped
in, money is pumped out,” Thomas said. Real cost effectiveness, he added, will
come when every community is building clean energy infrastructure and projects.
While each project may be small, together the impact can be “massive,” he said.
of local, grassroots movement abound, they said. Local tribes in Arizona formed
the Black Mesa Water Coalition more than a decade ago in response to coal
mining in the Black Mesa Mountains. Not only did the Navajo-led nonprofit help
close down one of Peabody Energy’s coal fired plants, they’re now organizing
and developing community-owned solar and looking at ways to reuse old coal
infrastructure, Yoshitani said.
the short term, they’re aiming for a one- to five-megawatt project on the Black
Mesa. Some of the local Navajo have never had electricity.
the scale is such, Yoshitani said, that everyone can have a hand in building a
new energy economy.
key fights where there are conflicts of communities coming into the ending of the
extractive fossil fuel system,” Yoshitani said. “Supporting Standing Rock and
the water protectors there, supporting their vision.”
The Daily Climate is an
independent, foundation-funded news service covering energy, the environment
and climate change. Find us on Twitter@TheDailyClimateor email editor Brian Bienkowski at
bbienkowski [at] EHN.org