This past week, members of our HERC Coalition (community organizations including MPIRG, Sierra Club, MN Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, Community Power, and St. Joan of Arc) went on a trip to Chicago for an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 5 roundtable discussion with environmental justice leaders on the Clean Power Plan, and testified at the Clean Energy Incentive Program Public Hearing. The Clean Power Plan is the first ever national standard to address carbon pollution from power plants. It will reduce carbon pollution from power plants, while maintaining energy reliability and affordability. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is in charge of implementing the federal Clean Power Plan carbon reduction standard, and each region of the EPA works with individual states to implement their own state implementation plan, if they choose to go above and beyond the federal implementation plan. Currently the federal Clean Power Plan is on hold from the Supreme Court, after a multitude of states issued a lawsuit claiming the Clean Power Plan standards were too harsh and strict to follow. However, many states, including Minnesota’s Pollution Control Agency, have chosen to move forward on community engagement and putting together a state implementation plan, so when the stay is lifted, we can move forward without having to start from scratch.
Environmental Justice community members and leaders went to this roundtable discussion to provide input to the EPA Region 5 on an environmental, economic, and racially just Clean Power Plan that prioritizes low income communities and communities of color, those who bear the greatest impact and are disproportionately affected by climate change. We also provided input to the optional program included in the Clean Power Plan, the Clean Energy Incentive Program. States can opt in to participate in the CEIP when the Clean Power Plan becomes implemented. The CEIP is designed to help states and tribes with fossil fuel infrastructure meet their goals under the plan by removing barriers to investment in energy efficiency and solar measures in low-income communities and by encouraging early investments in zero-emitting renewable energy generation. As communities are making the transition away from fossil fuel infrastructure, we stressed the importance of prioritizing zero waste alternatives to coal, and not moving towards dirty alternatives such as natural gas or waste to energy incinerators that emit toxic chemicals into the atmosphere, not only increasing greenhouse gas emissions but disproportionately affecting black, brown, and indigenous communities that more often that not, reside on communities located near these facilities.
Waste to Energy (WTE) incinerators are a concern for our HERC Coalition, as here in Minneapolis we are battling an incinerator that is detrimental to the health of our community. The Hennepin Energy Recovery Center (HERC), located in downtown Minneapolis, burns over 1,000 tons of garbage per day, and is the number one contributor of greenhouse gas emissions in the city. It is not only contributing to greenhouse gas emissions but to the poor air quality of North Minneapolis. The zip code, 55411, which is North Minneapolis, has the highest rate of asthma hospitalizations in the entire state. There are 18 elementary schools within a 2 mile radius of the incinerator, posing a health threat to our communities. We do not want to see incinerators count for green credit in the Clean Power Plan, and stressed the importance of true zero waste lifestyles that prioritize wind and solar projects.
The conversations at the EPA Roundtable were fascinating; many folks who have been fighting for environmental justice for years noted how it was one of the first times the EPA was in a room with primarily black and brown folks, and the conversations centered around equity and prioritizing front line communities, a first for many and the one of the first conversations that has ever happened at an EPA office nationally. I felt so honored being in a space with experienced environmental justice organizers, but it also brought the Minnesota climate justice fight into perspective. I could not believe the stories I was hearing from community leaders who are fighting to even have initial conversations with their state agencies on the Clean Power Plan and incorporating equity into conversations, compared to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency conducting community listening sessions and reaching out to the HERC Coalition for comments on their state implementation plan. At the end of the day, it comes down the legislators controlling those regions and the ability for the community to work with their state agencies. It made me never forget the importance of going out and voting in local elections, elections that truly make a difference in how your state operates. People have a voice and through actively engaging in voting, they can shape an equitable Clean Power Plan that is for all Minnesotans.
Mahyar Sorour, MPIRG Lead Environmental Justice Organizer