False claims promoted by National Black Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Harry Alford in his commentary in the News Tribune on May 1 (National View: “Minority families would bear brunt of Clean Power Plan”) are at odds with the NAACP, the U.S. Black Chambers and more than 10,000 pastors of black churches across the U.S. Each of these groups has come out in support of the federal Clean Power Plan, citing the negative effects pollution and climate change disproportionately have on communities of color.
The report Alford cited in his commentary has been soundly discredited by the Union of Concerned Scientists, which called it false and misleading.
Alford’s claims also rang hollow here in Minnesota, where communities of color stood at the forefront of the movement that worked to phase out coal pollution in the Twin Cities a decade ago.
Here are facts: The Clean Power Plan sets a pollution-reduction goal for our state and gives us flexibility to design a plan that works for us within Environmental Protection Agency guidelines. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency held numerous meetings and listening sessions across the state to collect feedback on what Minnesotans want to see in their plan. This flexibility means Minnesotans must ensure our final plan does not continue to perpetuate the same harms and inequities we have seen from our energy system in the past. That’s why, as environmental-justice
advocates and allies, we secured commitments from the MPCA to complete an environmental-justice analysis for Minnesota’s Clean Power Plan and continue to consult and engage people of color and low-income communities all the way through the process.
While we disagreed strongly with Alford’s assessment, the common ground we share is that we all want affordable energy. This makes his suggestion to stop working on Minnesota’s Clean Power Plan all the more dangerous. We cannot stick our heads in the sand about our aging, dirty energy infrastructure; the rising costs of coal; or the harms of pollution and climate change on our health and our well-being. Minnesota must continue our path toward a responsible and equitable transition to cleaner, renewable energy and greater energy efficiency.
The path forward must invest in real solutions, like wind, solar and energy savings that keep energy costs low and phase out the use of burning garbage for electricity, which disproportionately affects low-income communities and communities of color in our state.
We hope Alford would agree with us that the transition to clean energy needs to be racially and economically just and equitable. This means working with both the communities and the workers impacted as we reduce the use of coal and move toward a just transition that includes investing in green infrastructure.
Communities of color and low-income communities have historically shouldered more than their fair share of pollution and have yet to see economic benefit.
That is why we must work together in shaping our state’s continued clean-energy progress. Efforts like the Clean Power Plan’s Clean Energy Incentive Program offer opportunities to focus energy efficiency and renewable-energy investments in communities previously underinvested in or disproportionately burdened.
There is still so much to do going forward to ensure a just and equitable best-of-the-above strategy for our energy system, one that powers Minnesota’s homes and businesses and invests in our communities - all while producing less pollution that harms our health, air, water and climate. Gov. Mark Dayton and Minnesotans should step up the collaboration in building the best Clean Power Plan possible for all Minnesotans. With respect to Alford, Minnesotans are the ones who will decide what is best for our state.
Josh Stewart of Duluth graduated this spring from the College of St. Scholastica with a degree in marketing management. Five others contributed to the writing of this commentary. They are Mahyar Sorour of St. Paul, a campus organizer for the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group (mpirg.org); Marcus Mills, an organizing coordinator for Minneapolis-based Community Power (communitypowermn.org); Janiece Watts of St. Paul, an environmental justice organizer for North Minneapolis-based Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (mnnoc.org); Ann Mongoven, a faith-based organizer for ISAIAH (isaiahmn.org), who worships at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Community in South Minneapolis; and Karen Monahan of Minneapolis, the environmental justice and beyond coal organizer for the Sierra Club (northstar.sierraclub.org).