COLUMBUS – As the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Obama administration work toward approval of the Clean Power Plan, which would limit carbon pollution, people in low-income communities may have the most to gain.
According to the NAACP, people of color and low-income households are more likely to live near the coal plants that generate most of the nation’s electricity, and plants located in urban areas are overwhelmingly located in communities of color.
Shelly Kaiser, director of advocacy for the American Lung Association in Ohio, says the proximity of neighborhoods to power plants affects people’s health and monthly budgets.
“They’re the ones that have the bills from the health impacts,” says Kaiser. “They’re the ones that are more likely to be in the areas where the health impacts are heavy, and they’re the least able to be able to handle paying those bills.”
The National Black Chamber of Commerce has spoken out against the Clean Power Plan, citing reductions in jobs and income, and an increase in electricity costs, all of which it says would disproportionately affect low-income families.
Kaiser and others counter that any increase in rates will be offset with a decrease in demand. The EPA estimates that by 2030, the net public health and climate-related benefits from the Clean Power Plan would be worth up to $54 billion every year.
Nearly half of Americans live in counties that have unhealthy levels of dirty air, according to the American Lung Association. Janice Nolen, the organization’s assistant vice president for national policy, says as proposed, the Clean Power Plan directly addresses the criticism of those who argue low income communities may not benefit from the EPA’s proposal.
“Under the plan as it’s in place now, the requirements would be that we have to make sure that we’re not harming these people,” Nolan says, “which means that for the first time they may actually get more cleanup than they would otherwise.”
With Ohio’s long history of coal mines and the resulting poor air quality, Nolen says the Buckeye State will see a significant benefit from the Power Plan if enacted.
“We’ve known for a long time that the people there are bearing a lot of the burden of having polluted air so cleaning up these power plants will help the folks in Ohio significantly.”
Current federal regulations protect the public from some levels of mercury, arsenic, soot and other air pollution from power plants, but there is no limit on carbon pollution.
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