EJ input to the Clean Power Plan, in Chicago and Illinois

…“There should be hard restrictions on the purchase of credits by generators in environmental justice communities,” said Juliana Pino, policy director of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO), whose members fought to close Chicago’s coal plants. “So-called waste-to-energy facilities are in no way carbon neutral. This is particularly salient for communities like Little Village that have [closed] coal plant facilities that could be retooled for incineration.”

Detroit residents with the racial and economic justice group Michigan United spoke about the need for “green jobs” in their community and the myriad ways they have been affected by corporations and inequality.

“I don’t know if people with more money spend much time thinking about people with less money like me,” said Erin Baldwin, in a heartfelt plea that sparked EPA official Kevin Culligan to answer. even though, he said “I’m probably not supposed to do this.”

Culligan, associate division director with EPA’s Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards, promised that officials would hear and deeply consider all the testimony.

“I hope your passion matches ours,” responded Baldwin, back in the audience after her testimony. “Stand up with us and make the change that we need you to make for us. I charge you all to have the same passion and same love that you have for your child or grandchild for the people that are suffering.”

Jacqui Patterson, director of the NAACP’s environmental and climate justice program, said African Americans spend $41 billion on energy every year, but hold only 1.1 percent of energy jobs and gain less than .01 percent of the revenue from the energy sector. She attributed the numbers to the American Association of Blacks in Energy.

“So this is a sector that extracts from our communities and takes that money to burn toxins in our very own communities while using the profits to actively and aggressively oppose regulations that would protect communities and the environment from pollution, while not even sharing economic gains with local workers,” Patterson told the EPA.

A challenge to Illinois

During the hearing, a rally outside and a press conference the previous day, environmental and clean energy leaders and citizens called on Illinois to opt in to the CEIP, even as they asked the EPA to make changes to the proposal.

They also took the debate over the CEIP as an opportunity to call for state lawmakers to pass the Clean Jobs Bill, a proposal they say would create 32,000 jobs by (among other things) increasing state mandates for renewable energy and energy efficiency.

During the EPA hearing, Illinois State Representative Robin Gabel, a co-sponsor of the Clean Jobs Bill, called for its passage. Gabel noted that the bill requires 20 percent of “cap and invest carbon revenues” to be invested in energy efficiency and renewable energy in low-income communities.

“We are committed to achieving cleaner air and more economic opportunity,” said Gabel. “We look forward to working with the EPA on our plans.”

At a press conference the day before the hearing, Chicago renewable energy company owner Mark Handy indicated that both a strong CEIP and the Clean Jobs Bill are crucial to promote clean energy and environmental justice in Illinois.

“We must hold EPA’s feet to the fire…and most importantly we have to begin now,” said Handy, who is African-American and president and CEO of KenJiva Energy Systems. “Doing nothing guarantees Illinois will fall farther and farther behind. And the status quo guarantees that communities of color and low-income people will be left behind.”