Clean Power Plan, Community Engagement and Environmental Justice

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In August, the EPA and President Obama announced the Clean Power Plan, which aims to reduce carbon pollution from power plants as a means to stem the advance of climate change. The plan introduces the first national standards the U.S. has ever seen for carbon pollution, while customizing goals for each state. If the plan is successful it will not only greatly reduce carbon pollution emitted from U.S. plants; it will also contribute to incentivizing a clean energy transition in the United States, while improving air quality by reducing loads of soot and hazardous chemicals emitted from the combustion of fossil fuels.

According to the EPA, the construction of the plan has involved “years of unprecedented outreach and public engagement.” EPA plans to continue its discussions with communities now that the final plan is in place, and November is a particularly busy month for this initiative. During the next month, EPA will hold four two-day public hearings at locations across the country. Hearings will be held in Pittsburgh (November 12-13), Denver (November 16th-17th), Washington, DC (November 18th-19th), and Atlanta (November 19th-20th). These hearings will give community members and other stakeholders the chance to raise concerns or arguments relating to the power plan. Registration opened several days ago, and can be found at the EPA’s website. Following the meetings, the public comment period for the plan will remain open through January 16th.


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Many of the environmental justice provisions in the plan were added as a result of input from environmental justice advocates. This chart was featured in a grist.org article by Jalonne L. White-Newsome of "WE ACT for Environmental Justice"

According to the Clean Power Plan fact sheet, EPA will require states to document how they are actively enhancing community engagement during the implementation of the plan, particularly engagement with low-income communities, minority communities, and tribal communities. This requirement attempts to establish a channel of dialogue by which community members can learn about state activities to realize the goals of the plan, while providing their own input. The EPA will also monitor air quality impacts on vulnerable populations and provide easily accessible data on emissions via a community resource web page.

So far, the plan has drawn mixed praise and criticism from environmental and environmental justice organizations. The Sierra Club praised the plan’s inclusion of environmental justice provisions as well as community resources. However, they pointed out that the plan does not include a consideration of cumulative impacts; that the plan allows cap-and-trade programs to be used, which may exacerbate the existence of pollution hot spots in environmental justice communities; that waste-burning may increase as a result of the plan; and that the requirements for compliance with the Civil Rights Act during plan implementation are insufficient. The Energy Justice Network echoed concerns about cap-and-trade programs and Civil Rights Act compliance, and urged EPA to close loopholes related to nuclear power, natural gas, and biomass burning. WE ACT for Environmental Justice praised the plan as an ambitious “step in the right direction,” and assured that environmental justice advocates across the country would continue to speak up and impact the implementation process just as they shaped the original plan.

As the EPA and state agencies move forward with implementation, this involvement from EJ activists will be critical in ensuring that the plan’s provisions for environmental justice and community involvement are carried forth, and that the lingering inadequacies of the plan are addressed. Hopefully, the November meetings will be a continuation of this unprecedented process of community engagement and outreach.

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