On January 19, activists at each of the Environmental Protection Agency’s 10 regional offices issued their own corrective on the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. Days before the end of the federal comment period, the Climate Justice Alliance’s Our Power Campaign – comprised of 41 climate and environmental justice organizations – presented its Our Power Plan, which identifies “clear and specific strategies for implementing the Clean Power Plan, or CPP, in a way that will truly benefit our families’ health and our country’s economy.”
Introduced last summer, the CPP looks to bring down power plants’ carbon emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels within 15 years. The plan was made possible by Massachusetts vs. EPA, a 2007 Supreme Court ruling which mandates that the agency regulate greenhouse gases as it has other toxins and pollutants under the Clean Air Act of 1963. Under the CPP, states are each required to draft their own implementation plans by September of this year, or by 2018 if granted an extension. If they fail to do so, state governments will be placed by default into an interstate carbon trading, or “Cap and Trade,” system to bring down emissions.
Michael Leon Guerrero, the Climate Justice Alliance’s interim coordinator, was in Paris for the most recent round of UN climate talks as part of the It Takes Roots Delegation, which brought together over 100 organizers from North American communities on the frontlines of both climate change and fossil fuel extraction. He sees the Our Power Plan as a logical next step for the group coming out of COP21, especially as the onus for implementing and improving the Paris agreement now falls to individual nations.
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“Fundamentally,” he said, “we need to transform our economy and rebuild our communities. We can’t address the climate crisis in a cave without addressing issues of equity.”
The Our Power Plan, or OPP, is intended as a blueprint for governments and EPA administrators to address the needs of frontline communities as they draft their state-level plans over the next several months. (People living within three miles of a coal plant have incomes averaging 15 percent lower than average, and are eight percent more likely to be communities of color.) Included in the OPP are calls to bolster what CJA sees as the CPP’s more promising aspects, like renewable energy provisions, while eliminating proposed programs they see as more harmful. The CPP’s carbon trading scheme, CJA argues, allows polluters to buy “permissions to pollute,” or carbon credits, rather than actually stemming emissions.
The OPP further outlines ways that the EPA can ensure a “just transition” away from fossil fuels, encouraging states to invest in job creation, conduct equity analyses and “work with frontlines communities to develop definitions, indicators, and tracking and response systems that really account for impacts like health, energy use, cost of energy, climate vulnerability [and] cumulative risk.”
Lacking support from Congress, the Obama administration has relied on executive action to push through everything from environmental action to comprehensive immigration reform. The Clean Power Plan was central to the package Obama brought to Paris. Also central to COP21 was US negotiators’ insistence on keeping its results non-binding, citing Republican lawmakers’ unwillingness to pass legislation.
Predictably, the CPP has faced legal challenges from the same forces, who decry the president for having overstepped the bounds of his authority. Republican state governments, utility companies, and fossil fuel industry groups have all filed suit against the CPP, with many asking for expedited hearings. Leading up the anti-CPP charge in Congress has been Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has called the plan a “regulatory assault,” pitting fossil fuel industry workers against the EPA. “Here’s what is lost in this administration’s crusade for ideological purity,” he wrote in a November statement, “the livelihoods of our coal miners and their families.”
Organizers of Tuesday’s actions, however, were quick to point out that the Our Power Plan is aimed at strengthening – not defeating – the CPP as it stands. Denise Abdul-Rahman, of NAACP Indiana, helped organize an OPP delivery at the EPA’s Region 5 headquarters in Chicago, bringing out representatives from Black Lives Matter Minneapolis, National People’s Action and National Nurses United.
“We appreciate the integrity of the Clean Power Plan,” she said. “However, we believe it needs to be improved – from eliminating carbon trading to ensuring that there’s equity. We want to improve CPP by adding our voices and our plan, and we encourage the EPA to make it better.” Four of the six states in that region – which includes Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin – are suing the EPA.
Endorsed by the National Domestic Workers’ Alliance, Greenpeace and the Center for Popular Democracy, among other organizations, yesterday’s national day of action on the EPA came as new details emerged in Flint, Michigan’s ongoing water crisis – along with calls for Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s resignation and arrest. The EPA has also admitted fault for its slow response to Flint residents’ complaints, writing in a statement this week that “necessary [EPA] actions were not taken as quickly as they should have been.”
Abdul-Rahman connected the water crisis with the need for a justly-implemented CPP. “The Flint government let their community down by not protecting our most precious asset, which is water,” she said. “The same is true of air: we need the highest standard of protecting human beings’ air, water, land.”