Environment Picture

Urban neighborhoods, communities of color and low-income Michiganders have most to gain from Climate Bill

The following opinion column ran Sept. 2 in the Detroit Free Press’ online edition. It was coauthored by Heaster Wheeler, executive director of the NAACP’s Detroit branch, and Chris Kolb, MEC’s president.

Communities of color, low-income populations and those in Michigan’s older urban neighborhoods are among those with the most to gain from passage of the American Clean Energy and Security Act (the Climate Bill).

How so?

The bill would accelerate momentum toward energy efficiency programs—helping low-income homeowners and renters who live in the draftiest, oldest homes to afford insulation, power-saving appliances and other money-saving makeovers.

It would help curtail pollution from fossil fuels that contribute to tragically high rates of childhood asthma, heart disease and respiratory failure in our core city neighborhoods. African Americans are three times more likely to be hospitalized from asthma, and 70% live in counties that violate pollution standards.

It would be a catalyst for transitioning to a new, clean energy economy that can replace the industrial and automobile industry jobs that are disappearing in Michigan. This will provide employment in areas of the state hardest hit by the collapse of the Old Economy.

These truths were recognized last week when the NAACP passed a resolution supporting climate change policy that “will build a new generation of good jobs, rebuild urban areas and support rural areas, protect families, communities and public health, and help elevate our nation as a world leader.”

It is the first time the NAACP has addressed the climate change issue directly, representing an historic moment in our effort to limit the worst impacts of a warming planet.

The NAACP’s initiative dovetails with the work that its Detroit Branch and the Michigan Environmental Council have been doing in the state’s largest city. Both organizations are committed to using smart energy policies to help revitalize Detroit’s economy, improve the health of its residents, and reduce the burden of escalating utility bills.

The Climate Bill’s benefit to those most in need was also recognized by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which stated recently that “households in the lowest (20% income bracket) would see an average net benefit of about $40 in 2020.”

Additionally, the CBO cost estimates do not include the immense savings that all households will incur as a result of the climate bill’s energy efficiency requirements. The savings, the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy estimates, would be around $170 a year.

The Climate Bill is also a jobs bill. Clean energy jobs grew by almost 11% nationally between 1997 and 2005—a period where the overall job rate declined. According to a report by the Center for American Progress, out of more than a million jobs that will be created as a result of the Climate Bill, tens of thousands will be right here in Michigan. This would go a long way toward stimulating Michigan’s burgeoning clean energy industries, and it can repopulate the idle industrial lands in our great cities like Detroit, Flint, Lansing and Saginaw.

Use this link for more information from the Center for American Progress:
http://images2.americanprogress.org/CAP/2009/06/fact sheets/peri_mi.pdf

Make no mistake: Transformative change in our energy policy like that initiated by the Climate Bill will not be a seamless transition. There will be roadblocks and blind alleys and unintended consequences. That frightens the timid, and gives opponents an opening to use fear and uncertainty to maintain the status quo.

That status quo works well for Big Coal, Big Oil. But it is not working for the rest of us: The middle class stuck with increasingly unaffordable energy costs; low-income urban residents whose neighborhoods are choked with pollution; Michigan unemployed workers unable to find jobs in modern Clean Energy industries; and future generations who will inherit a dirtier, hotter planet even more dependent on dwindling fossil fuels.

The Climate Bill passed the U.S. House recently with the help of eight courageous Michigan House members. Our U.S. Senators—Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin—now have the opportunity to strengthen and send this vital legislation to President Obama’s desk this year.

The vitality of our cities, the vitality of our economy, and the health and future of our children are at stake in this Climate Bill debate. Let this be the moment when we rise to meet the challenge of forging a modern, thriving energy future for the 21st century.

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Heaster Wheeler is executive director of the NAACP’s Detroit branch. Chris Kolb is president of the Michigan Environmental Council.
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