Black Chamber: Minority, Low-Income Households Hurt by EPA Regulations

Harry Alford, the president and chief executive officer of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, believes the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, designed to stop coal-fired power plants from spewing carbon into the atmosphere, will do nothing but hurt blacks and Hispanics.

And for the life of him, Alford can’t figure out why the Obama administration doesn’t realize this. Or maybe, Alford said, they have.

“EPA’s apparent indifference to the plight of low-income and minority households is inexcusable,” said Alford. “We should pursue policies that expand opportunity for the less fortunate, not ones that further disadvantage them. The only solution is for EPA to withdraw its rule.”

The EPA released a statement to PJM claiming nothing could be further from the truth.

“EPA has conducted an unprecedented amount of outreach with all stakeholders to gain feedback and help affected communities – including low-income and communities of color – to better understand the proposed Clean Power Plan. As part of this outreach, EPA has conducted face-to-face trainings, webinars and community calls throughout all phases of this rulemaking. We are taking the important feedback and comments we received into account as we continue to work toward a final rule and we will continue our outreach throughout the implementation process.”

“Addressing climate change,” the statement continued, “is particularly beneficial to low income, communities of color and indigenous populations because they are the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.”

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy has spent the past year telling blacks, Hispanics and other minorities they need to be “climate change warriors.”

A civil rights group, rather than an environmental organization or agency, actually took the lead on this crusade. The NAACP said in 2012 coal-fired power plants “disproportionately impact communities of color.”

So, McCarthy did not break new ground when she told an audience at a Hip Hop Caucus event at historically black Clark Atlanta University in 2014 the EPA needed to “hear from those who are most vulnerable to climate change.”

That’s when the EPA and the Obama administration started their push to clean up America’s coal-fired power plants with the so-called Clean Power Plan.

When the Clean Power Plan was unveiled in 2014, McCarthy said it would, for the first time, cut carbon pollution from existing power plants, which the EPA branded as “the single largest source of carbon pollution in the United States.”

"By leveraging cleaner energy sources and cutting energy waste, this plan will clean the air we breathe while helping slow climate change so we can leave a safe and healthy future for our kids,” McCarthy said. “We don't have to choose between a healthy economy and a healthy environment -- our action will sharpen America’s competitive edge, spur innovation, and create jobs."

The NAACP study, “Coal Blooded: Putting Profits Before People,” looked into the overall toxicity of emissions or the “dirtiness” of coal plants. It combined the emissions of power plants with demographic data to rank a coal plant’s impact on the people who lived in communities near the facilities.

The NAACP study examined the emissions of 378 plants and found 75 of them deserved an “F” rating. That would affect the environment for the approximately 4 million people who live near the lowest-rated plants.

The study showed 78 percent of African-Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired plant and 71 percent live near the dirtiest plants.

“Because of the intersection of climate change and all these issues that we face every day, whether it's education issues, criminal justice issues, it impacts everything because the environment impacts everything,” Jacqueline Patterson, the director of NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Programs at the time, told the Earth Island Journal.

“We really had to kind of reframe it so that in the hearts and minds of communities it actually resonated as something that we were interdependent on in terms of the environment and working to preserve it.”

However, Alford said the EPA Clean Power Plan would force blacks, Hispanics and other minorities to choose between paying for housing, food, or their power bills.

“Inability to pay energy bills is second only to inability to pay rent as the leading cause of homelessness,” he said.

The National Black Chamber of Commerce study released June 10 showed the EPA’s “Clean Power Plan” would inflict “severe and disproportionate economic burdens” on poor families, especially minorities. In particular, the study claimed, the rule will impose the most harm on residents of seven states with the highest concentrations of blacks and Hispanics.

“The EPA’s carbon dioxide regulation is a slap in the face to poor and minority families,” said Alford. “These communities already suffer from higher unemployment and poverty rates compared to the rest of the country, yet EPA’s regressive energy tax threatens to push minorities and low-income Americans even further into poverty.”

Alford said the National Black Chamber of Commerce study showed the EPA’s rule would increase black poverty by 23 percent and Hispanic poverty by 26 percent. That would mean in 2035 African-American communities would lose 7 million jobs and close to 12 million jobs would be lost by Hispanics.

Household income for blacks would fall by $455 under the Clean Power Plan and $515 for Hispanics, according to the NBCC study. It also showed seven states with the highest concentrations of blacks and Hispanics would be hurt the most: Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, New York, and Texas.

“The study estimates that restructuring America's energy grid, which the EPA's rule will require, will lead to $565 billion in higher annual electricity costs by 2030, when the regulation will be fully implemented,” Alford wrote in an Investors Business Daily op-ed.

“With blacks and Hispanics spending a larger share of their income on energy than whites, the burden of higher costs will fall hardest on minorities. We will be hurt again through job losses, as businesses take steps to mitigate the damage of higher overhead,” he added.

Push is coming to shove for all sides in the EPA Clean Power Plan debate. The agency’s timetable calls for approval of a final plan by “mid-summer of 2015.” The EPA would then begin the regulatory process for approval a federal plan.