By Niger Innis and Bishop Harry Jackson, Jr.
This kind of “environmental justice” we can do without.
From New York, Washington and Atlanta to Chicago, St. Louis and Dallas, America is baking in a furnace. As millions swelter and gasp, they thank their lucky stars for air-conditioned cars, homes, offices and other places of refuge. And for the reliable, affordable electricity that makes AC possible.
Previous generations weren’t so fortunate. When a record heat wave slammed the nation in July 1936, Midwest temperatures hit 100-107 for a week. With most homes and businesses lacking even fans in this pre-AC era, millions suffered heat prostration. In Wisconsin, 449 died. Nationwide, thousands perished.
Now the EPA and NAACP want to send America back to the “good old days.” Under a perverse notion of “environmental justice,” they are promoting tough new air quality rules that would shut down dozens of coal-fired power plants that make affordable AC possible for millions of poor and minority families.
According to them, coal-based electricity is “racist.” Minorities are more at risk because they often live near “dangerous,” older, more polluting power plants.
There is no excuse for the ridiculous “racism” and “justice” rhetoric, or the way EPA used cherry-picked data and computer models to conjure up health risks and benefits that exist only in virtual worlds. (Visit www.AffordablePowerAlliance.org for details.) Worse, the agency refused to consider the disastrous effects its draconian regulations will impose on families and businesses, due to skyrocketing electricity prices.
EPA’s rules will reduce electricity availability and send costs soaring 12% to 60% by 2015 – especially in the 26 states that depend on coal for 48-98% of their electricity. Families and businesses in those states currently pay less than half as much per kilowatt hour as those in low-coal, high-tax, hyper-regulated states. That means jobs, profits, balanced budgets – and protection against life-threatening heat and cold.
Under EPA/NAACP rules, all that would end. Power plant closures will cause deadly electricity shortages during periods of peak demand. Millions of poor and minority families will be unable to afford air conditioning when electricity is available. Our elderly will be particularly at risk, especially in inner cities, because energy costs hit them disproportionately and they are least able to survive heat and heatstroke.
This summer’s blistering heat wave is a forecast for what lies ahead. Dozens have already died, including a Kansas man who had air conditioning but was concerned about paying his electricity bill, and so didn’t turn it on. How many more will face this life-or-death choice, after the EPA and NAACP succeed in closing power plants and driving electricity prices through the roof, no one can say. But in Chicago, a 1995 heat wave killed 700 people – and local papers predict a 40-60% price hike by 2015.
Shops, restaurants, groceries, dry cleaners and bakeries will see electric bills soar by thousands a year. Hospitals, school districts, internet providers, hotels and factories will be forced to pay tens or hundreds of thousands, even millions in added electricity costs. Factories that now pay $1 million for electricity could see an extra $600,000 added to their annual operating costs.
Each $30,000 increment is equal to another entry-level job that won’t be “created or saved.”
Chicago public schools will need an extra $2.7 million a year for electricity by 2014, the Chicago Tribune has reported. That translates into dozens of terminated sports programs, teachers and administrators.
Steel and paper mills, aluminum and petroleum refineries, car and aircraft factories will see annual electricity costs soar by millions of dollars. That could mean massive layoffs and entire operations shuttered or moved overseas. Management Information Services calculates that EPA’s rules will cost six Midwestern manufacturing states a combined 3.5 million jobs and $42-82 billion in annual GDP.
Do the EPA and NAACP suppose their rules will end heat waves? Or that unemployed workers and their families will be better able to afford air conditioning the next time temperatures climb above 100 degrees? Or that newly impoverished state and local governments will be better able to provide energy welfare – perhaps via another $1 trillion in federal debt?
Power plant emissions have been falling for decades. They have hardly morphed into a health-threatening crisis that suddenly justifies this EPA power grab and power plant shutdown. There is no basis for imposing stratospheric electricity costs that will kill millions more jobs – and put millions more people at risk from heat stroke and other ravages of government-inflicted poverty.
It would be nice if we could wave a magic wand and find billions of dollars to tear down and replace older power plants – or retrofit them with new pollution control and monitoring equipment, cover the extra annual operating and maintenance expenses, pay for “stranded investments” from facilities that will be shuttered long before the end of their useful life, and build or upgrade transmission lines from new power plants, wind farms and solar arrays.
It would be wonderful if wind and solar facilities could actually replace the NAACP and EPA’s detested coal-burning power plants – without needing billions in federal subsidies, duplicative gas-fired backup generators, thousands of miles of new transmission lines, hundreds of thousands of acres, and millions of tons of concrete, steel, copper, fiberglass and rare earth metals.
It would be fabulous if they actually generated electricity anywhere near their rated capacity and worked 24/7/365, instead of maybe 8/5/300 – and their electricity didn’t cost three times the coal-based alternative.
It would be incredible if EPA permit quagmires and environmentalist lawsuits did not stymie virtually every proposal for new coal, gas and nuclear power plants, transmission lines, natural gas drilling, and even wind farms and photovoltaic arrays, to replace coal-fired generators.
But that is not the world we live in.
Instead, we remain bogged down in an interminable recession, with intractable unemployment. We have incurred monumental debt. We have created a morass of legislation, regulation and litigation that ensures old power plants will be gone, replacements won’t be built anytime soon, and “smart meters” will let bureaucrats shut off AC power anytime electricity demand exceeds supply. We are killing jobs, businesses, investment and innovation – and will soon be killing our own citizens.
America’s workers, poor and minorities now face the prospect of skyrocketing energy prices and even more unemployment – accompanied by recurrent blackouts, rolling brownouts, misery, heatstroke, and unnecessary deaths during future heat waves.
One shudders to think that NAACP is so misguided, so ideologically hidebound, so beholden to government grants that it cannot recognize this – or realize it is the NAACP and EPA that are inflicting “energy racism” and “environmental injustice” on our nation’s most vulnerable citizens.
Reliable, affordable energy is the foundation for jobs, modern living standards, health, opportunity and civil rights progress. The NAACP needs to join the Affordable Power Alliance and Congress of Racial Equality in protecting Americans against further job losses and future heat waves.
Innis and Jackson are co-chairs of the Affordable Power Alliance, a coalition of civil rights, religious and social issues groups representing African American, Hispanic, poor and elderly constituents.