Wall Street Journal In A State Of Denial On Clean Power Plan And Environmental Justice

Latino coal protest

The Wall Street Journal editorial board is echoing debunked oil industry claims that the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) climate change plan will harm low-income families and people of color, while also denying the devastation that pollution is disproportionately inflicting on these communities.

In an August 12 editorial, The Journal attacked the EPA for including “new antipoverty transfer programs” in the Clean Power Plan, which will address climate change by limiting carbon pollution from power plants.  According to The Journal, provisions to “ensure that all communities share in the benefits” of the plan -- referenced on page 1,317 of the final rule -- are proof that the plan will harm low-income and minority communities by increasing home electricity bills. The only other purported evidence The Journal cited in support of this conclusion came from the National Black Chamber of Commerce, an oil industry front group whose “study” on the Clean Power Plan is based on climate science denial and thoroughly debunked industry-linked reports.

The Journal went on to attack the environmental justice movement as a “political grievance school” and dispute that pollution causes “disproportionate damage to the poor and minorities”:

The [EPA] orders states “to evaluate the effects of their plans on vulnerable communities and to take the steps necessary to ensure that all communities benefit from the implementation of this rule.” These are the themes of “environmental justice,” the political grievance school that argues for income redistribution to offset the allegedly disproportionate damage to the poor and minorities from pollution.

It is more accurate to say that any economic disparities arise from the rule itself. Regulations that artificially raise energy prices are regressive.

The Journal couldn't be more wrong here. While the EPA has worked with environmental justice organizations to take precautions that will protect vulnerable communities from any potential short-term electricity bill increases, independent analysts agree with the EPA that the plan will result in significantly lower electric bills once it is fully implemented. That will help Americans of all socioeconomic conditions, but particularly low-income families.

Meanwhile, the immense public health benefits that will arise from the EPA plan will be particularly important for low-income and minority communities, who do disproportionately suffer from pollution, despite The Journal's protestations.

According to a 2012 report by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the annual per capita income of people who live within three miles of a coal-fired power plant is more than $3,000 less than the national average. Moreover, in 2011 Earthjustice and the Environmental Justice Research Center found that the poverty rate for those who live near a coal plant is a full percentage point higher than the national average. The groups noted that the problem is particularly pronounced in southern states such as Alabama and Mississippi, where “the poverty rate near coal plants is more than twice the national average,” and Tennessee, where “the number of people living below the poverty line near coal plants is 41% higher than would be expected from the national average.”

People of color are also disproportionately impacted by pollution, and therefore stand to greatly benefit from the Clean Power Plan. For instance, the EPA estimates that its plan will result in 90,000 fewer asthma attacks every year once it is fully implemented. That is particularly important for African-Americans and Latinos, who are each much more likely than whites to die from asthma-related causes, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

These groups are also disproportionately affected by climate change. The NAACP has noted that African-Americans, who are more likely than whites to live in urban and coastal areas, are particularly at risk from climate impacts such as rising sea levels, food insecurity, and heat-related deaths. And the 2014 National Climate Assessment stated that new Hispanic immigrants are particularly “vulnerable to changes in climate,” due to "[l]ow wages, unstable work, language barriers, and inadequate housing," all of which are “critical obstacles to managing climate risk.”

The Wall Street Journal may wish to dismiss what it calls “the EPA's form of carbon justice,” but the reality is that the disparate impacts of pollution are very real, regardless of what its editorial board chooses to think.

Image at top via Flickr user Rainforest Action Network using a Creative Commons License.