Author: Jacqueline Patterson April 8, 2017 NAACP
Since 1909, the NAACP has addressed a vast array of civil rights issues including education, employment, housing, civic engagement, health, and criminal justice. Communities of color nationwide are, and have historically been, beset by human and civil rights violations, including disproportionate exposure to pollution, crime, substandard living conditions and more. African Americans who reside near energy production facilities including coal fired power plants, nuclear power plants, or biomass power plants, are more likely to suffer the negative health impacts of prolonged exposure to smog, lead, asbestos, mercury, arsenic, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and other toxins than any other group of Americans. 1234 Prolonged exposure, to toxins from these energy production facilities, is tied to birth defects, heart disease, asthma attacks, lung disease, learning difficulties, and even lower property values. Approximately 68% of African Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant, which produces the largest proportion of energy compared to any other energy production type.
The health conditions associated with exposure to toxins coming from these plants disproportionately affect African Americans. An African American child is three times as likely to be admitted to the hospital and twice more likely to die from an asthma attack than a white American child. Though African Americans are less likely to smoke, they are more likely to die of lung disease than white Americans are.5 A 2010 report by the National Research Council (NRC) calculates that particulate matter pollution from U.S. coal-fired power plants is solely responsible for causing approximately 1,530 excess deaths per year. In addition, properties in close proximity to toxic facilities average 15% lower property values.6 At the same time, many of the same polluting facilities that affect the daily health and well-being of host communities are major contributors to the greenhouse gases that are driving climate change. Carbon dioxide emissions are the leading cause of climate change and coal-fired power generation accounts for 32% of all emissions.
Not only do low-income neighborhoods and communities of color suffer more of the direct health, educational, and economic consequences of these facilities, but also devastating natural disasters such as Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, along with rising food prices and water shortages, harm low-income people and people of color disproportionately partly due to pre-existing vulnerabilities. While African Americans are enduring most of the harmful impacts of energy production, they are reaping few of the benefits from the energy sector. According to a 2010 study by the American Association of Blacks in Energy, while African Americans spent $41 billion on energy in 2009, they only held 1.1% of energy jobs and only gained .01% of the revenue from the energy sector profits.
Therefore, there is both inequity in the incidence of disease and the economic burden for communities of color that host energy production facilities. African Americans should no longer abide the millstone of the noxious facilities and continue to be overlooked by the energy industry while living in blight. Given that the unemployment rate for African Americans has consistently been nearly twice that of the national average and the average wealth of white Americans is 20 times that of African Americans, it is past time to revolutionize the relationship communities of color have with this multi-billion dollar industry. Leading in a new energy economy serves as pathway out of poor health, poverty and joblessness while establishing a foundation of energy resources and security for generations to come.
The NAACP will continue to build upon its legacy of advocating for equity, economic justice, and environmental justice within the energy sector, especially in the broader context of climate change. The following diagram outlines the NAACP’s policy precedence and the foundation for the recommendations we pose to enact change in the energy sector.
Environmental injustices, including climate change, have a disproportionate impact on communities of color in the United States and around the world. The NAACP ECJ Program was created to educate and mobilize communities to address this human and civil rights issue by advocating for these three objectives:
1) Reduce Harmful Emissions, Particularly Greenhouse Gases
Combines action on shutting down coal plants and other toxic facilities at the local level, as well as building of new toxic facilities, with advocacy to strengthen development, monitoring, and enforcement of regulations at federal, state, and local levels. Also includes a focus on corporate responsibility and accountability.
2) Advance Energy Efficiency and Clean Energy
Works at the state level on campaigns to pass renewable energy and energy efficiency standards while simultaneously working at the local level with small businesses, unions, and others on developing demonstration projects to ensure that communities of color are accessing revenue generation opportunities in the new energy economy, while providing safer, more sustainable mechanisms for managing energy needs for our communities and beyond.
3) Improve Community Resilience and Livability
Ensures that communities are equipped to engage in climate action planning that integrates policies and practices on advancing food justice, advocating for transportation equity, upholding civil and human rights in an emergency, and