Coal communities fear exclusion from environmental justice initiatives – Mother Jones



There is snow on the ground in front of the coal mine and factory.There is also a signboard that says "bel air mine"

Bel Air Mine near Gillette, Wyoming Mead Gruber/AP

This story was first published internal climate news Reprinted here as part of. climate desk collaboration.

Stakeholders in declining coal communities Wyoming residents say the Biden administration’s environmental justice policies will save them billions in federal clean energy and infrastructure grants aimed at helping communities that stand to lose the most from transitioning away from fossil fuels. They are concerned that this is hurting their competitiveness in acquiring new products.

Historic coal cities like Gillette, Wyoming, have been unable to win federal clean energy grants despite a weak economy and so-called strong applications, WyoFile reports. Local officials and University of Wyoming economists say this is because Campbell County, where Gillette is located, does not qualify as a “disadvantaged area” under President Joe Biden’s Justice 40 initiative.

Like many rural towns that have long relied on revenue from the coal industry, Gillette may be heading toward a fiscal cliff as coal prices plummet and more coal-fired power plants close across the country. . Since 2008, coal production in the region has fallen by half and coal mining jobs by a third. A University of Wyoming report predicts the state’s coal mining industry will lose nearly a quarter of its customer base over the next decade.

“Gillette will be recognized as a disadvantaged community due to the economic impact of changes in the coal market,” said Kara Fornstrom, director of the Center for Energy Regulation and Policy Analysis at the University of Wyoming’s School of Energy and Resources. he told Wyofile. “However, many of the screening factors are per capita income compared to the national average, so those are not shown.”

But federal officials and environmental justice advocates say the situation is not that simple.

Biden created Justice 40 through an executive order in 2021 as part of a broader effort to address the nation’s persistent socioeconomic and health disparities. The law requires federal agencies to transfer 40% of the “overall benefits” of environmental and energy investments to “disadvantaged communities that have been historically marginalized and overburdened by pollution and underinvestment.” instructed to provide it.

The directive broadly forces federal agencies to prioritize so-called disadvantaged communities when awarding subsidies for clean energy and environmental projects, sparking a national debate about which communities should be included in that definition. Happened.

The White House has developed an online tool to identify these communities, but some activists have criticized the tool for missing important layers. They argue that the tool’s methodology excludes middle-class black families living in areas disproportionately contaminated by racist policies such as redlining. He promised to “fight just as hard” for marginalized and ailing rural Wyoming communities like Black families.

But Maria López Nuñez, another member of the White House advisory committee, said Justice 40 isn’t just about helping communities currently experiencing economic turmoil. López-Nunez said while many rural areas have begun to face financial hardship in recent years, Justice 40 aims to help communities that have historically been overburdened by pollution and disenfranchised from political power and wealth. He said it was about supporting society. “What we’re trying to do with Justice40 is solve old legacy problems,” she says. “This is not intended to address what could happen when we move away from fossil fuels.”

López-Nunez added that by definition, Justice 40 only accounts for 40 percent of federal clean energy funding, meaning 60 percent remains in local governments that are outside the scope of the current program. According to a spokesperson for the Environmental Protection Agency Region 8 office, which covers Wyoming, various federal agencies also have slightly different interpretations of Justice 40, including how grants are compensated and who is eligible to receive them. He said this meant there was some flexibility in making decisions.

The Department of Energy, for example, uses its own screening tool with a unique set of indicators to identify disadvantaged communities, an EPA spokesperson said. And both DOE and EPA award environmental justice-related funding to communities that are not initially identified as “disadvantaged,” but provide a compelling reason to receive the grant. The spokesperson added that the company has expressed its readiness.

In fact, the Biden administration anticipates that the transition to clean energy will negatively impact coal communities and has set aside federal funding specifically for that issue. Earlier this year, federal officials passed a new policy aimed at helping rural areas hit by mine closures and power plant closures receive financial support from new federal energy and infrastructure funds. Announced. These policies include access to about $38 billion in existing federal funds available to coal communities to build new infrastructure, reclaim old industrial sites and revitalize the economy.

For example, the Department of Energy announced it would disburse $450 million from the Infrastructure Act that can be used to build clean energy projects on current and former mine sites.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen announced the new policy in April, saying, “Coal workers and residents of energy communities have been the backbone of our economy for decades, and they must be at the heart of economic investment across the country.” said.

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