Energy Justice is Overdue Along With Climate Change Reponses

by Duane Nichols on January 15, 2021

Time is running out ...

Justice First: How to Make the Clean Energy Transition Equitable

From an Article by Tara Lohan, The Revelator, January 11, 2021

Shalanda Baker is currently a professor of law, public policy and urban affairs at Northeastern University and cofounder of the Initiative for Energy Justice, where she works on making the clean energy transition more just. Her new book is “Revolutionary Power, An Activist’s Guide to the Energy Transition,” published this month of January 2021.

The Revelator spoke with Prof. Baker about why we can’t solve our current climate crisis by following the same energy playbook and what it means to put various justice concerns first.

Question: “Energy justice” may be a new term for people. How do you define it?

I feel like it’s helpful to distinguish it from environmental justice as well as climate justice. They’re interrelated and, I think, inextricably intertwined.

We had seen landmark environmental legislation passed in the 1970s which largely failed to address energy distributional concerns and largely left communities of color to fend for themselves through regular civil rights claims to sort out those burdens. And that actually didn’t work out.

So the environmental justice movement continues and on their shoulders is the climate justice movement, which very much recognizes that island communities and other communities in the Global South, as well as environmental justice communities including in the United States, will be the first and worst impacted by climate change.

So they’re really working to create policies that respond to that vulnerability.

But energy justice for me is the most hopeful aspect of this because it’s forward looking. To me, it’s about dreaming and saying, “What system can we create that not only remediates or helps to remediate some of that environmental harm, but can make us less vulnerable in the face of climate change?”

Rooftop solar, batteries, things that allow us to bounce back more quickly in the face of climate change — this hopeful terrain of energy policy that is reflective of energy justice principles is where I like to do my work.

Question: What response do you get when you talk about energy justice now?

If you had asked me that six months ago, I would have said that it’s very hard. No one’s listening, it’s terrible.

But since the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with the murder of George Floyd, we have seen this sort of awakening, for lack of a better term, with respect to the multiple layers of oppression and inequality that certain communities face.

We know that communities of color are more likely to be environmental justice communities, breathing in toxic fumes. We know that they’re more likely to experience energy burden, paying more of their overall income to meet basic energy needs. And now we know that they’re more likely to die from a pandemic and that the likelihood of having the worst effects of COVID relates back to the energy system.

So now there’s an opening, there’s an opportunity. Since June there’s really been more of a willingness to learn about this — and not in just the typical places, but with policymakers, with folks from departments of energy around the country and attorneys general offices.

Question: Are there examples of energy justice in action you’ve seen around the country?

One is in New York through the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which was signed into law about a year ago and was very much a product of grassroots advocacy. A coalition called NY Renews made sure that that law included a carve-out for environmental justice communities [requiring] that 35% of climate investments have to go back to those communities.

We see similar things in California with Senate Bill 535, which is essentially a redistribution of the benefits of that state’s cap and trade policy to so-called “disadvantaged communities.”

So there are wins here and there, but we have to keep fighting.

Question: You write in your book about how the goal for many activists has been “climate first, energy justice later.” But you advocate for justice first. Why?

Bringing in the voices of folks who’ve been historically colonized and excluded for hundreds of years is just the morally right thing to do.

But I think more and more, we’re starting to understand that our fates are linked. And we cannot leave behind certain squads of the population in pursuit of our own gains. We have to make sure that they have a voice at the table and are able to bring life to their own vision of what the energy system should look like.

Or else we’ll get kicked by it at the end of the day. We’ll be hit by the realization that we’ve left out this entire segment of the population that can’t pay their electricity bills or that now has to move because of climate change. That will ultimately create substantial social costs down the road.

So for me, it’s about making a stronger society. I really want ordinary folks — our aunts or uncles, our friends who are not in energy or environmental law and policy — to engage with these ideas and to see the ways in which energy is such an intimate part of our lives.

I want people to get curious and begin to organize around a just energy future. And to also maybe even get a little upset about the deep injustice that is embedded into not just the fossil fuel system — because that’s a story we know — but into this clean energy transition, where we are not only replicating but in some ways exacerbating inequality.

>>> Tara Lohanis is deputy editor of The Revelator and has worked for more than a decade as a digital editor and environmental journalist focused on the intersections of energy, water and climate. Her work has been published by The Nation, American Prospect, High Country News, Grist, Pacific Standard and others. She is the editor of two books on the global water crisis.

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Lee Burton January 15, 2021 at 10:07 am

EPA to unveil Scott Pruitt’s portrait Friday — Family, friends and former colleagues will gather to see the artwork, which cost taxpayers $4,513

By Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis, Washington Post, Jan. 12, 2021

The Environmental Protection Agency will host the official portrait unveiling Friday of former chief Scott Pruitt, who resigned in 2018 after coming under scrutiny for his lavish travel and treatment of staff, along with his ties to lobbyists and outside groups.

A small group of family, friends and former colleagues will attend the ceremony, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said.

The portrait, which consists of a framed photo transferred to canvas, cost taxpayers $4,513. EPA officials noted that the total bill is less than what it cost to frame the photographic portrait of Pruitt’s predecessor, Gina McCarthy, who served in the Obama administration and is slated to join the incoming Biden administration as the first-ever national climate adviser.

“You know, Gina McCarthy, she had a big event for hers,” Wheeler said. “It’s up to each administrator, what kind of event that they want for the portrait unveiling.”

E&E News reported some details about the unveiling ceremony Tuesday afternoon.

Trump’s administration rolled back more than 125 environmental policies.

Asked how he would define the mark Pruitt left on the agency, Wheeler said: “You know, Scott and I only overlapped eight weeks. So I think it’s too soon to speak to his overall legacy.”

But he added that Pruitt — who set in motion several of the Trump administration’s highest-profile environmental rollbacks on issues ranging from climate pollution to toxic waste from power plants before leaving in 2018 under a cloud of ethics inquiries — did elevate the importance of Superfund cleanups and pushed to more quickly finalize national air quality standards.

The portrait will not be the only lasting physical reminder of Pruitt’s legacy. Nearby, just steps from the EPA administrator’s office, stands the secure phone booth he installed, which violated federal spending laws and cost taxpayers $43,000. Pruitt ultimately made a single call to the White House from the private booth.

Wheeler said that at this point, it would make sense to keep the well-publicized booth in place, given the amount of money spent to reinforce the floor to support it.

“So I think when they started the project they had no idea what they were getting into. … You know, once you start a project you can’t bail in the middle because you have all these sunk costs,” he explained. “It may be expensive to remove it at this point.”


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