Monday, June 15, 2009

Blacks In Energy Decry Cap & Trade

[Note: AAEA supports cap and trade and has formulated an Environmental Justice Allowance Reserve (EJAR) that can be applied to this program to protect vulnerable citizens.]

"Who Will Bear Weight of Green Effort?"


Good intentions are not always good enough. And that fact holds true for a few well-meaning, but not thoroughly researched, efforts to address climate change. Case in point: the cap-and-trade provisions being deliberated on Capitol Hill right now.

A growing body of evidence indicates that this approach to raising the cost of using most fossil fuels would do so at significant expense to our country’s more vulnerable citizens, the millions of Americans who are concerned about the planet’s future but who are also struggling to pay their energy bills.

Additionally it has been suggested that what has been proposed carries with it higher risks, higher operating costs and less efficiency than another, better-understood and better-known approach: a carbon tax.

Despite emitting less carbon, low-income households in Texas spend a higher portion of their income on energy. Not only will utility costs increase, but so will the price of most goods and services. For the elderly, the disabled and families of limited means, too quickly passing an untested policy to meet our climate problem will make cooling their homes — a vital amenity during Houston’s sweltering summers — seem like a luxury expense. And that heavy impact doesn’t even begin to account for the indirect costs related to increasing the costs of using carbon intensive fuels.

So for the many families already living at or below the poverty level, implementation of a federal system to raise the price of energy could further diminish their hopes of ever getting their heads above water. If a federal policy is going to raise the price of energy and disproportionately burden these already vulnerable families, then it ought to do so in the most efficient, most effective way and no more than is absolutely necessary for the circumstances in that particular region.

As it happens, the regions of the country that would feel the greatest impact from the higher energy costs would be the areas that contain the largest concentration of African-American residences and small businesses. These minority families and entrepreneurs would likely be the hardest hit, since they are sensitive to even small market shifts. And unless the policy is designed with substantial foresight, the free market price of CO2 emissions could see the same kind of stock market volatility that has led to much of our current economic difficulty.

Attempts to achieve a cleaner environment shouldn’t come at the cost of pushing poor families even further away from the American dream. Yet, that’s exactly where we are heading if climate change remedies, particularly the transition to clean energy, widen the wealth gap in this country.

Wealthy individuals have the means to buy hybrid automobiles, compact fluorescent light bulbs and Energy Star appliances. They can invest in more insulation or low-emissivity windows.
In contrast, people struggling just to get by will have to drive their inefficient cars and use their outmoded appliances until they cannot be repaired again.

Even if “being green” can’t be a fully shared American experience, we should, at the very least, take steps to ensure that the poor aren’t inordinately punished by our national efforts to meet this environmental responsibility.

There is little doubt that policies should and will be enacted to better preserve the planet. The question we need to answer is whether the responsibility for saving our environment will be responsibly borne disproportionately by the impoverished among us.

Frank Stewart, pictured above right, is president of the American Association of Blacks in Energy and is a member of the EPA’s National Advisory Council on Environmental Policies and Technologies (NACEPT). He worked for the U.S. Department of Energy for more than 25 years.

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