The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) held a briefing discussing how environmental justice (EJ) is addressed through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s Clean Power Plan, the nation’s first-ever rules limiting carbon pollution from power plants (which are the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States). The Clean Power Plan will not only cut millions of tons of carbon dioxide emissions, but also hundreds of thousands of tons of particulate pollution that becomes soot and smog. Cutting these emissions will help prevent thousands of premature deaths, heart attacks, asthma attacks, and missed work days. Minority and low-income communities, which are more likely to be located in areas burdened with pollution, will particularly benefit from these emission reductions.

In accordance with Executive Order 12898, EPA is required to make environmental justice a part of its mission. After active involvement and feedback from the EJ community, the final Clean Power Plan provides tools to reduce the burden placed on minority, low-income, and indigenous communities from pollution and ensure that these communities are not disproportionately affected by the rule. Our panel explored how incorporating environmental justice concerns into the Clean Power Plan's implementation can help vulnerable communities.

The Clean Power Plan requires states to meaningfully engage with low-income and minority communities, identify communities currently suffering from air pollution and climate change, and evaluate how compliance plans will affect these communities. The rule also rewards states for implementing energy efficiency projects in low-income communities through the Clean Energy Incentive Program (CEIP).

Despite these requirements, there are concerns that some vulnerable communities will not see benefits from the Clean Power Plan. Some EJ organizations are worried that air pollution hotspots may result from the increased use of coal or natural gas plants prior to the implementation of the rule; there are also concerns that the use of cap-and-trade programs to comply with the CPP will allow polluting facilities near communities to stay open. To ensure the Clean Power Plan is helping vulnerable communities, the EPA will assess its implementation to check that air quality "in all areas" has improved, and that there are no deleterious localized impacts.

This briefing was the first in a series examining environmental justice perspectives on the Clean Power Plan:


Briefing Highlights


Carol Werner, Executive Director, Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) — moderator


  • Despite the Supreme Court stay on the Clean Power Plan (CPP), many states are moving ahead with their plans to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.


Mustafa Ali, Senior Advisor to the Administrator for Environmental Justice, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

  • Ali noted that it’s important we think about and address the issues associated with environmental justice concerns.
  • Policy sometimes has gaps, we must therefore involve community leaders in the policy-making process. When you ensure that there is true engagement in the process, it moves us in the right direction.
  • There are elevated health risks for disadvantaged communities, particularly low-income communities and communities of color. Ali noted, for instance, that communities of color suffer from elevated levels of asthma. This may not seem very important, until one's child has to be sent to the emergency room time and time again for not being able to breathe. And many other types of pulmonary diseases are associated with air pollution.
  • These health risks have economic consequences. For example, parents may need to take time off work to look after a sick child. They will lose money by being away from work.
  • The Clean Power Plan can help lower the incidence of illness, and address some of these concerns.
  • There are voluntary opportunities for states to continue with their implementation plans, despite the Supreme Court's stay. States that continue to plan for compliance are ahead of the curve.
  • There was extensive engagement leading up to the Clean Power Plan, showing how environmental justice can shape policymaking process:
    • Close to 4 million comments
    • The involvement of environmental justice leaders, communities, and stakeholders.
    • Communities played a significant role in trainings, webinars, and meetings.
    • The Clean Power Plan was revised multiple times.
  • We need to make sure we have the strongest involvement possible from people of color and low-income communities.


Mark Magaña, President, GreenLatinos

  • Magaña focused on why our communities need environmental justice protections under the Clean Power Plan.
    • Magaña grew up in Los Angeles. He recalled the days when the Air Quality Index was rated “unhealthy” and being told as a child that he couldn’t go out and play. He did not suffer from asthma, but remembers gasping for air and vomiting for relief. This dirty air became the new normal.
    • His mother passed away from leukemia, a form of leukemia most commonly associated with exposure to industrial pollutants.
  • We have been conditioned to think that fossil fuel energy is our only way of getting energy, and that it is up to us to adapt to the poor air quality it causes. We must pay the extra price for dirty energy (in the shape of asthma, inhalers, medical bills…).
  • The case of tap water contaminated with lead in Flint, Michigan, is an extremely high-profile case. However, these kinds of stories are not out of the ordinary; Flint just made it to the news. That's why we need environmental justice protections in the Clean Power Plan.
  • There were cases of members of the Latino community not receiving clean water because they lacked an ID; others were not aware the tap water was dangerous because warnings were only broadcast in English.
  • It is an environmental injustice that half of Latinos live in the most polluted counties; that 40 percent of Latinos live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant; that over 2 million Latinos have asthma, and that Latino children are 40 percent more likely to die from asthma.
  • GreenLatinos wants to reform environmental justice analyses and incorporate equitable distribution of burdens and benefits.
  • The Environmental Justice Leadership Forum on Climate Change has written a seminal report on what actions can be taken to implement the Clean Power Plan with environmental justice in mind. The report is available here.


Vernice Miller-Travis Senior Associate, Community Planning and Revitalization Group, Skeo Solutions

  • Miller-Travis said the Supreme Court stay of the Clean Power Plan has a silver lining: we have more time to work on meaningful implementation plans.
  • Air pollution credit-trading is at the core of how the Plan will be implemented. Environmental justice advocates are generally against credit trading, as this allows dirty plants to keep operating, provided their emissions are offset elsewhere. Such plants are often near minority and low-income neighborhoods.
  • To illustrate the impact big polluters can have on a community, Miller-Travis considered the case of western Harlem (currently Rep. Rangel's district), where she grew up. A study by Harlem Hospital and Columbia University study found that western Harlem is the community with the highest rate of premature deaths from asthma in the Western hemisphere (worse even than in Mexico City).
  • But credit-trading can take environmental justice into account. In California, the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (SB-535) guarantees that 10 percent of the money raised by the emissions trading scheme will go directly to providing public health benefits for the most affected communities. This is a good model for other trading schemes, and for the Clean Power Plan.
  • If the Clean Power Plan is not targeting reductions in the places where pollution levels are the highest, then although it may have a national impact, it will not help the communities that need it most. The Clean Power Plan needs to target its impacts where the effects of pollution are the greatest.
  • The Maryland Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act is the vehicle through which Maryland will implement the Clean Power Plan. A new Skeo Solutions report, Planning for Climate and Energy Equity in Maryland, notes that substantial social inequities will persist in Maryland without specific action.
    • The Clean Energy Incentive Program is part of the Clean Power Plan, and rewards early action on renewable energy and energy efficiency in low-income communities. However:
      • If you’re not a homeowner, it is hard to access these benefits.
      • If someone lives in a multi-unit home, apartment dwelling, or dilapidated home, they will not be able to make their home more energy-efficient.
    • 650,000 jobs could be created in Maryland through the implementation of the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act. But, people of color and those who live in low-income communities are less likely to have the technical skills needed for well-paid work in the renewable industry.
    • Not everyone is equally burdened by environmental problems. The lack of financial resources and public services (such as mass transit) reduce the capacity of communities to prepare for and respond to climate change.
  • Proactive and equitable climate and energy policies can empower and strengthen the resilience of disadvantaged communities confronted by the effects of climate change.


Question & Answer Session

Speaker Slides