TODAY’S STUDY: THE OTHER COSTS OF COAL
Coal Blooded; Putting Proftis Before People
Adrian Wilson, et.al., November 2012 (Indigenous Environmental Network, Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People)
Foreword - The Movement for Environmental and Climate Justice
Environmental issues are not isolated instances. They are a broad national concern with civil rights implications. Historically, people of color have disproportionately experienced negative outcomes associated with their physical environment.
Communities of color have been forced to contend with land appropriation, toxic working conditions, polluted neighborhoods and other conditions that have a detrimental effect on their environments and socioeconomic opportunities. It was in the 1960s and 1970s, mainstream audiences who were galvanized into action by the publication of Silent Spring, and who responded with “not in my backyard” when faced with environmental hazards that would impact public health and private property. While white middle-class communities were often successful in combating these threats, “the path of least resistance became an expressway leading to the one remaining toxic frontier--people of color communities.”1However, in 1982, a community battle against a controversial polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) disposal landfill, in rural Warren County, North Carolina, mobilized hundreds of African Americans in civil disobedience and led to over 500 arrests.2 The fight was widely cited as the spark which ignited the Environmental Justice (EJ) Movement.
Pioneering work by Bunyan Bryant, Pau Mohai, Robert Bullard and others, along with groundbreaking reports, most notably in 1983, by the U.S. Government Accounting Office and in 1987, by the Commission for Racial Justice of the United Church of Christ, confirmed that there was a direct correlation between race and toxic waste sites: “Although socioeconomic status appeared to play an important role in the location of commercial hazardous waste facilities, race still proved to be more significant.”3
In September 1991, over 600 grassroots leaders from every state in the U.S. attended the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C. This summit broadened the scope of the growing EJ movement to include issues of public health, land use, transportation, housing, resource allocation, and community empowerment.4 One legacy of the event was a statement called the “Principles of Environmental Justice,” which outlined the following key demands:5
• The “cessation of the production of all toxins, hazardous wastes, and radioactive materials, and that all past and current producers be held strictly accountable to the people for detoxification and containment”
• The “right to participate as equal partners at every level of decision making, including needs assessment, planning, implementation, enforcement and evaluation”
• The strict enforcement of processes of informed consent
• The right to reparations for victims of environmental injustice
• The right to self-determination for all peoples
• The freedom from bias in public policy relating to environmental issues
• The right of workers not to be “forced to choose between an unsafe livelihood and unemployment”
• Recognition of Indigenous peoples’ special “legal and natural” relationship of sovereignty and self-determination with the U.S. government
• Opposition to military occupation and exploitation of lands and peoples
• The protection of all peoples from nuclear testing and waste disposal
From its beginnings in the early 1980s, the EJ movement has expanded significantly throughout the United States, and has gradually forged a path for government agencies and mainstream environmental advocacy organizations to confront issues of the environment and communities of color. There are now hundreds of grassroots environmental groups based in communities of low-income and of color, along with scores of academic programs offering training and support of EJ issues.6 In 1990, leaders of the Southwest Organizing Project, in Albuquerque, NM, spearheaded an initiative to prod the country’s largest and most influential conservation organizations (dubbed “the Group of Ten”) to establish more equitable working relationships with environmental justice groups. The majority of the national environmental groups, after considerable prodding, have responded in some way, ranging from attempts to diversify their staffs to, in the case of the Sierra Club, establishing a national environmental justice program to work in partnership with community-based organizations.
The urgency for response has also extended to the climate justice community. Since 1988, when James Hansen and Sergej Lebedeff published the first definitive proof that the planet was warming, “climate change” has been transformed from an academic theory into a global political struggle, with unprecedentedly massive amounts of resources at stake.7In 1992, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro resulted in the creation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), a negotiating framework that has since governed intergovernmental negotiations on fighting climate change. In 1997, the third UNFCCC intergovernmental climate conference in Kyoto (COP-3) resulted in the Kyoto Protocol, an international environmental treaty that produced an initial pathway for market-based emissions reductions, and in 2009, the COP-15 meeting in Copenhagen saw the negotiation of the “Copenhagen Accord,” an agreement for modest CO2 emissions reductions that was negotiated by five top-polluting countries. The Accord has since been signed by over 130 additional governments.
As part of this transformation, many mainstream environmental organizations have gone from being voices for change on the margins of the political process, to allying themselves with powerful political and economic actors — politicians, regulatory agencies, and eco-reformist corporations — in building campaigns for carbon reductions in which ecological principles are often sacrificed to political expediency.8In order to defend their polluting industries from radical overhaul, reformist corporations have spent a massive amount of resources promoting “false solutions”: initiatives such as carbon trading, carbon capture and storage/sequestration (CCS) and natural gas, biofuels, and other “alternate” fuel stock, that seek to “manage the climate crisis without compromising profits, the power structures or the economic system that got us here, even if that means exacerbating the problem.”
In the United States, the promotion of “clean coal” and CCS has allowed the coal power industry to continue polluting communities by holding up the false hope of eventual reductions in carbon emissions. By “greening” the image of coal through heavy advertisement and political promotion of the supposed promise of “clean coal,” the energy industry has managed to take the political heat off of coal-fired power generation, and prolong the period in which these plants are allowed to continue operating. At the EPA, there has been recent progress in the development of new rules under the Clean Air Act to regulate air toxics, such as the Mercury and Air Toxics Rule, which has already spurred announcements of intended closure of multiple plants, according to multiple plant owners. However, unfortunately, EPA proposes to exempt existing coal power plants from its new rule regulating greenhouse gasses, the New Source Performance Standard for Power Plants.
The new proposed rule is limited to new plants.
In recent years, many climate activists have criticized the increasingly cozy relationship between large environmental organizations and government/corporate actors, arguing that some mainstream environmental organizations are ignoring principles of environmental justice while they appear to defer to government and corporate partners more than they do to activists at the forefront of local climate, environmental, and social justice struggles. These activists have formed what they call the “climate justice movement,” arguing that stopping climate change is impossible without radically transforming the economic and political system that caused climate catastrophe in the first place.
In the past decade, advocates for climate justice have grown from a small network of individuals — often with roots in the global justice or environmental justice movements — to become a full-fledged social movement. The Bali Principles (inspired by the 1991 Principles of Environmental Justice), which were authored by the Indigenous Environmental Network, Third World Network, Oil Watch, CorpWatch, Friends of the Earth, the National Alliance of People’s Movements, and other groups from both Global North and South – outline the following central principles of climate justice:
• A demand for a moratorium on all new fossil fuel exploration & exploitation, nuclear power plant construction, and large hydroelectric dam construction;
• Opposition to the role of corporations both in shaping unsustainable practices, and in unfairly influencing policy;
• The subordination of “market-based or technological solutions to climate change” to principles of democracy, sustainability, and social justice;
• The principles of “common but differentiated responsibilities” and democratic accountability that governments must hold to in responding to the climate crisis;
• The principle of the “ecological debt” owed by the Global North to the rest of the world for its disproportionate share of historical CO2 emissions;
• The right of workers in fossil-fuel industries to a safe, healthy work environment, and the need for a “just transition” to a clean energy economy;
• The rights of women, youth, the poor, and rural peoples to have an equal voice in decision-making processes, without facing discrimination; and
• The right of Indigenous peoples and affected communities “to represent and speak for themselves,” to control all their traditional lands, to protect themselves from any threat to their territories or their “cultural way of life,” and to exercise “free, prior, and informed consent” over project decision-making.
While the climate justice movement has been at its most visible while protesting and agitating at international climate summits and negotiations (such as the protests at the COP-15 UN climate negotiations in Copenhagen in December 2009, at which 1,800 climate justice activists were arrested), those who comprise the “movement” are actually a coalition of local groups campaigning for real solutions to climate change in their communities. In the U.S., this movement includes groups like the Environmental Justice and Climate Change Initiative, the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, We Act for Environmental Justice, Southwest Workers Union, the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Black Mesa Water Coalition, and many others. Through this transnational climate justice movement, local groups are given an important platform to demonstrate the integral connection between their local campaigns on a wide variety of issues, and the climate justice goals outlined above. As Indigenous activist Clayton Thomas-Muller has stated, the agenda of the climate justice movement is about:
“Not simply demanding action on climate, but demanding rights-based and justice-based action on climate that… amplifies the voices of those least responsible and most directly impacted. Not only are we the frontline of impacts, we are the frontline of survival.” 11
In building this movement, climate justice activists are guided by an overriding principle: communities most affected by climate change should be at the forefront of the struggle. This report, Coal Blooded: Putting Profits Before People, demonstrates both the urgency and opportunity for community action with respect to coal fired power plants—an issue at the intersection between climate justice and environmental justice.
This report focuses on the role that coal-fired power plants have in the inequitable health outcomes of low income communities and communities of color in the U.S. and in the contribution of greenhouse gasses that drive climate change, the consequences of which also disproportionately impact people of color and low income communities globally. Coal plants have differing effects on low-income communities and communities of color - some are measurably worse than others. This report provides an empirical discussion of the effects of burning coal in power plants. Researchers focus on the coal plants in the U.S. with the worst records on environmental justice, and on the companies that own them.
Overall, a small number of coal power plants have a disproportionately large and destructive effect on the public’s health, especially on the health of low-income people and people of color. It is the argument of this report that the worst offending coal plants described and analyzed in this report must be closed – it is the only viable option.
Coal Blooded: Putting Profits Before People is a systematic study of 378 coal-fired power plants in the United States, in which each plant is evaluated in terms of its environmental justice performance (EJP), i.e., how it affects low-income communities and communities of color. The same methodology is used to evaluate Corporate Environmental Justice Performance (CEJP), based on the effects of those companies’ coal-fired power plants on low-income communities and communities of color. The score assigned to each plant, and each company, is based on five factors: SO2 and NOX emissions; the total population living within three miles of the plant(s); and the median income and percentage of people of color among the total population living within three miles of the plant(s).
This report has been written for multiple audiences. First, the report is for grassroots community activists and community organizations, to make them aware of the issue and its impact, to provide tools for organizing and advocacy, and to highlight what a winning strategy looks like. Second, it is written for environmental activists and organizations to dialogue about the environmental justice and climate justice dimensions of the anti-coal movement, to raise awareness of the existence and struggle of grassroots environmental justice organizations in communities across the county, and to suggest models of partnership that are the basis of a winning strategy. Lastly, it is written for philanthropy to offer opportunities for investing resources that will both support local communities’ struggling to better their living conditions while also advancing environmental grant makers’ most important goals of protecting human health and the environment and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
• Part I provides an introduction to coal and its impact on our communities.
• Part II presents the performance ranking of coal power plants in the U.S.
• Part III provides a ranking of the coal power companies through a Corporate Environmental Justice Performance measure.
• Part IV discusses how the industry has been financially profitable for the companies engaged in the business of coal power.
• Part V provides a framework for responding to this overall situation.
• Part VI looks at the recent community victory in Chicago and describes the elements of a winning strategy to close the worst offending coal plants – especially the grassroots leadership required.
• Lastly, Part VII offers a series of recommendations on what can be done to reduce harm—both immediately and in the future.
N.B. This report was researched and written using the last available 3-year average data from the EPA, from 2007-2010 and the latest census data available (2000) at the time of the completion of the report. Though some plants have closed and demographics have shifted, the intention is to illustrate the impact our dependence of coal has had on communities over time and to provide a cautionary tale if we continue on our present course of coal dependence.
Affirmative changes can be made to our energy practices that will ensure that we have the power we need, the jobs that sustain our livelihoods, and the preservation of health and wellbeing in all communities.
Closing the 75“failing plants “highlighted in this report would reduce U.S. power production by only 8 percent. This amount could easily be substituted by increased energy conservation and renewable energy production. The measures taken to increase energy conservation and renewable energy production include tax credits and financing for weatherization and supporting low income housing and homeowners to invest in renewable energy for their homes, water heating systems heated through geothermal, energy assessments on schools and homes, communities and instituting renewable portfolio standards to support scaling up utilization of renewable energy sources like solar, wind, and geothermal, etc. The key point is that shifting from harmful energy production through burning coal would reduce the number of Americans living within three miles of a coal plant by 67 percent, and therefore reduce thousands of hospitalizations, deaths, and incidents of illness in communities affected by these plants.
The message arising from this report is simple: these polluting life-compromising coal plants must be closed, and the path to doing so involves engagement from all to ensure policies and systems protect public health and maintain the economic wellbeing of communities, while providing the energy we all require to function.