PUSH Buffalo’s local clean energy jobs training led to community ownership and more community services: Let’s stop parachuting in experts and listen to locals who are working to fix long-term problems, tenaciously untangling the knot of inequity and injustice

Time Magazine, by MARK RUFFALO and RAHWA GHIRMATZION JULY 9, 2020. Mark Ruffalo is an actor and the co-founder of The Solutions Project, which supports climate justice organizations like PUSH Buffalo.Rahwa Ghirmatzion is executive director of PUSH Buffalo.

As the COVID-19 pandemic and police-brutality protests heat up metaphorically, we can’t forget that the Earth is still heating up literally. Because of systemic racism, these crises are hitting communities of color especially hard, with each aggravating the effects of the others. At the same time, Black and Brown communities are developing concrete, homegrown solutions to transform their own lives.

Too often, the money and decision-making power needed to address a crisis rest in faraway offices that deploy far-flung consultants and contractors to affected areas. It’s no surprise when these responses without community leadership—from prospecting in post-industrial cities to disaster capitalism’s response to hurricanes—only make matters worse.

When communities have the resources to build on local strengths and buy-in, they come up with effective, durable, and creative solutions to address short-term crises and long-term inequities alike.

Community leadership has been a bedrock principle for PUSH Buffalo for its 15-year history. PUSH is a membership-based community organization serving a low- to moderate-income neighborhood in the Rust Belt city of Buffalo, New York. When developers eyed turning the long-abandoned School 77 into 80,000 square feet of luxury condos, PUSH members quickly rounded up support from governments, nonprofits, and businesses so the community itself could own the building and control its future.

After a $14.8 million renovation, School 77 features 30 affordable apartments for seniors and a much-needed community center. It hosts a theater company, meeting spaces for community groups, and a gym—all powered by New York’s first community-owned solar array designed specifically to serve low-income households. And because PUSH already had clean-energy jobs training programs and a green-collar hiring hall in place, people right in the neighborhood secured good jobs renovating the building.

When COVID-19 hit, PUSH was ready. Street teams already in place for educating neighbors about free energy-efficiency upgrades were redeployed to deliver groceries and medical supplies to those rendered vulnerable by corporate greed and inadequate government programs. Existing grants supporting affordable housing were leveraged for rent relief. School 77, already a center of neighborhood activity, became a mutual aid hub distributing food, cleaning supplies and diapers. These solutions were deployed within days of the crisis hitting—and many weeks before Congress passed its first stimulus bill.

PUSH is far from the only U.S. community group figuring out solutions to the twin problems of climate and racial inequality. On the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota, the Oglala Lakota’s Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation is building solar-powered affordable housing, community gardens, and a workforce training center, as well as distributing food and cleaning supplies to elders during the pandemic. In Atlanta, the Partnership for Southern Equity, well-known locally for promoting equity on the economic, health and energy fronts, responded to COVID-19 by launching a Rapid Response Relief Fund. These examples show how community-led, practical solutions can lift up neighborhoods that have been inhumanely cast aside—and show a promising way forward for all of us.

Dismantling entrenched inequities is hard. For example, Black kids are four times as likely to die from asthma as white kids, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and as the climate warms, dangerous air pollution will worsen, increasing vulnerability to diseases from asthma to COVID-19. Similarly, extreme weather events are projected to become more common because of climate change—and they already disproportionately ravage communities of color, exacerbating economic inequality and leaving Black and Brown people less able to get the medical care they need to weather the next pandemic.

But by working to fix long-term problems and mobilizing quickly in times of crisis, communities of color are tenaciously untangling the knot of inequity and injustice. We must learn from communities of color across the nation as we all work to create the future we want.



The Renew Oregon coalition is working to move Oregon away from polluting energy to a clean energy economy, with good-paying jobs, clean air, and healthy communities.

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Clean Energy Jobs (2017-2020)


Clean Energy Jobs is a proposed law to put a limit on climate pollution from the largest polluters in Oregon, and charge them a price for what they put in our air. It will reduce pollution from burning fossil fuels, which causes global warming and makes people sick, and invest in communities across our state to create good-paying jobs and a thriving economy, especially in communities that need it most.

Through years of determined work and statewide organizing, we’ve never been closer to passing this important policy to benefit Oregon! We have a responsibility to leave our kids and grandkids a healthy future, but climate change and unchecked air and water pollution from dirty energy sources are putting that at risk. This proposal will help us leave a better world.

Video by: Affected Generation

It’s time for Oregon to transition from polluting energy to a clean energy economy. 

Our state is poised to reap the rewards of good-paying jobsclean air, and local, renewable energy while reducing climate pollution and investing in our communities.

We must act now. The impacts of climate change are hurting Oregonians. Our families, farmers, fishermen and firefighters are bearing the burden of climate pollution and burning fossil fuels. A limit and price on pollution from the largest sources will cut down the harmful effects on Oregonians while investing in solutions to grow our economy– especially for people hit first and worst by climate impacts like rural, low-income, communities of color, and Indian Tribes.

The Renew Oregon coalition is championing a policy that will: 

  • Cap: Limit climate pollution statewide for emitters of 25,000 tons of greenhouse gases per year, about the equivalent of burning 133 train cars full of coal. In other words, the store down the street or your favorite brewery will not fall under the cap, only the largest polluters in the state. The cap will decline over time through 2050 to ensure we reach our reduction targets and provide certainty for business. 
  • Price: The largest emitters will pay for every ton of climate pollution they put into our air. The price is adjusted over time to give polluters incentive to cut emissions and allowing flexibility to do so at least cost.
  • Invest: Hundreds of millions of dollars per year will be reinvested in clean energy solutions — like affordable solar, upgrades to homes and businesses to use energy more efficiently, more transportation options, and job training programs. Investments will be targeted to rural communities for projects like wildfire prevention, drought protection, and clean energy. Equity and a just transition to clean energy are central to the policy.

Read more on The Coalition Policy Outcomes Document


By acting now, Oregon will reap rewards — including clean, renewable energy and thousands of good paying jobs all over the state: 

  • An independent economic analysis found cap-and-invest will create 50,000 new, good-paying jobs in Oregon – jobs that can’t be outsourced – in communities all over the state. Employment and incomes in every county will see positive growth through better technology, higher pay, and energy savings. 
  • Switching to clean energy and reducing air pollution will keep Oregonians healthier, saving $2 billion each year in healthcare costs by 2030.
  • It will also help protect existing jobs in industries threatened by climate change, like restoring watersheds to protect fishing and upgrading irrigation systems to help farmers deal with drought.
  • Investing in clean energy creates jobs for Oregonians with all kinds of skills: construction workers, engineers, road crews, designers, manufacturing workers, accountants, salespeople, and administrators.
  • More than 55,000 Oregonians work in the clean and green economy now, with 11,000 of those jobs in rural Oregon.


Eleven U.S. states have successful cap-and-invest programs running now. After years of experience, all of them have: growing economies, falling emissions, stable energy prices, and thousands of jobs created. While large polluters continue to try to scare people away from action with claims of economic disaster, history is our proof of success.

 — Support for Clean Energy Jobs —


Read about the Clean Energy Jobs bill in the media.


Questions About the Clean Energy Jobs bill? Watch:

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Read the Clean Energy Jobs bill quick facts sheet

Shared values guide our coalition’s mission:
Read our Outcomes Document