Monday, March 18, 2013——The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI), the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Moapa Band of Paiute Indians, and the Franciscan Action Network held a briefing on the disparate impact climate change has upon communities of color and tribal nations in congressional districts around the country. The speakers talked about steps and initiatives they are taking to sustain and strengthen their communities, create jobs, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Climate change is real and requires a proactive response to mitigate negative impacts.
Communities of color and tribal nations face many challenges due to climate change.
Many communities of color exist in dense, congested urban areas, which disproportionately exposes them to air pollution, extreme weather events, and the heat island phenomenon.
Tribal nations face challenges to their way of life due to droughts and more severe climate variance. Many are fighting to maintain control of their communities and protect them from coal power plant pollution.
Climate change can also provide many opportunities for communities of color and tribal nations. With the rising use of renewable energy technology, new jobs can be created, and innovative solutions can help deter the negative impacts of climate change.
Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) opened the discussion, stressing the need for a proactive stance on climate change mitigation. Congressman Grijalva said that policy makers have yet to come to grips with how to handle climate change, but he again urged Congress to act and to assess the impacts of climate change that are likely to disproportionally affect communities of color across the nation.
Jacqueline Pata, Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians, noted that tribal nations have adapted to climate change for centuries, but climate has now become much less predictable and is affecting water supplies and harvest cycles.
Ms. Pata discussed the role of climate change for their initiative “Securing our Future.” Due to the effects of climate change, for example, low yields from salmon runs have reduced commercial opportunities for the tribe, while wildfires and drought have substantial negative impacts on local agriculture and cultural ceremonies.
Native American land comprises approximately two percent of U.S. land, but contains an estimated five percent of the nation's renewable energy resources. Therefore, there is great opportunity for solar panels and wind turbines to provide clean renewable energy and jobs on Native American lands.
Forest County Potawatomi currently boasts a 35 KW solar panel installation on a tribal administration building and a local anaerobic digester and biogas generation plant.
William Anderson, Chairman of the Moapa Band of Paiute Indians, discussed the challenges that their community faces due to the negative impacts of a neighboring coal plant. Coal ash from the plant is swept up by the intense winds of the desert and deposits on their yards and in their homes, and also settles into the community water supply. Therefore, the community's inhabitants ingest the toxins produced by the coal plant on a regular basis.
Members of the tribe suffer from high rates of lung disease, thyroid disease, and asthma, among other ailments.
Many other communities in close proximity to coal plants also face similar health problems.
Joseph Reed, Policy Analyst for the NAACP, shared a statement by Hilary O. Shelton, Director of the NAACP Washington Bureau and Senior Vice President for Policy and Advocacy. Shelton's statement noted the ineffective responses to the impacts of extreme weather events in communities with large numbers of people of color, such as New Orleans. He said the inability to efficiently respond to the negative impacts of natural disasters only exacerbates the suffering for members of the community. The statement also emphasized the need for aid in lower socioeconomic areas to help pay for skyrocketing energy costs.
Shamar Bibbins, Senior Political Associate at Green for All, discussed her organization's initiatives to improve environmental quality and promote jobs in less well-off communities.
Green for All’s main goals are to hold fossil fuel companies accountable, protect communities from the effects of climate change, create jobs through renewable energy, and ensure vulnerable communities have access to those jobs.
Anthony Giancatarino, Coordinator of Research and Advocacy at the Center for Social Inclusion, said the largest solar resources exist predominantly in communities of color and tribal nations, but very few solar projects have been launched in these areas.
Mr. Giancatarino explained that the lack of progress toward innovative energy solutions was due to a lack of property ownership, a lack of inclusion in local planning, a lack of technical and legal capacity support, and a lack of access to capital and financing in communities of color.
Federal solutions to achieve a true energy democracy that are promoted by the Center for Social Inclusion include a national standard for Feed-in Tariff payments that support community-scale projects, pilot Energy Independence Districts jointly supported by DOE and EPA, and matching grant opportunities to support innovation through the proposed Energy Security Trust.