Coal Pollution and the Fight For Environmental Justice by Diane Toomey
When the NAACP recently released a report on the disproportionate effects of coal-fired plants on minorities, Jacqueline Patterson led the efforts to spread its message that these facilities were “killing low-income communities and communities of color.”
Patterson is the Environmental and Climate Justice Director for the venerable civil rights organization — a job whose purpose is sometimes questioned by the NAACP’s own constituents. As Patterson puts it, “Some of the communities I work in were like, ‘Well, we’re dealing with double digit unemployment and people dying of AIDS, people being racially profiled, high murder rates. How is melting ice caps and polar bear extinction going to become a priority for us?’”
In an interview with Yale Environment 360 contributor Diane Toomey, Patterson discusses how she answers that thorny question and outlines the reasons behind the NAACP’s campaign to shut down coal-fired plants. She also talks about the often-difficult relationship between environmental justice organizations and major U.S. green groups. “We need to have tough conversations around organizational culture,” she says. “And we need more joint strategizing on how we can collaborate more effectively.”
Yale Environment 360: A few months ago, the NAACP released a report entitled “Coal Blooded: Putting Profits Before People.” It examined the effects of coal-fired plants on minority communities in the U.S. Paint a picture of who is most likely to live near these power plants.
Jacqueline Patterson: Thirty-nine percent of the people living near coal-fired power plants are people of color, so what’s absolutely true is that there are a disproportionate number of people of color living next to these plants. Seventy-eight percent of African Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant. We also discovered that Latino communities, as well as indigenous communities and low-income communities, are more likely to live next to coal-fired plants.
e360: The report assigned a so-called environmental justice performance score to 378 coal-fired power plants in the U.S. The score was based on the amount of sulfur dioxide and NOx [nitrogen oxide] emissions, the number of people living within three miles of the plant, and the median income and percentage of people of color in that population. Seventy-five of these plants were found to be failing. Define “failure” for me in this context.
For More: http://e360.yale.edu/feature/naacp_jacqueline_patterson_coal_pollution_and_fight_for_environmental_justice/
Comment by Anumakonda Jagadeesh
No doubt there were many coal based power plants which have become controversy due to pollution and health threat to human habitat. But what puzzles me is why people keep quiet when an announcement is made for setting up a coal/nuclear plants. Then one can impress on the plant owners that adequate pollution prevention methods are taken. Here in India there are agitations on the Coal power plants, Nuclear power plant and now on Solar PV Plant also (radiation hazards),Wind Turbines – birds killing and noise. Already the country is facing severe power shortage. If we begin to halt power projects, where does power come?
Solar energy has long been advocated as being better for the environment than fossil fuels. However, amongst fears that solar cells production might release more hazardous gases than fossil fuels, Chinese authorities recently suspended production at a solar panel factory after protests by residents who blamed the plant for causing air and water pollution.
In India, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), has exempted solar photovoltaic (PV) power projects from the ambit of environmental clearances.
We must fight for safe guards for power plants from pollution but not closure. In some cases these protests are initiated by vested interests.