This month marks the one-year anniversary of the announcement of the Clean Power Plan, President Obama and the EPA’s regulation to reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants. While the Clean Power Plan focuses on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it also includes a program to make sure all communities benefit from a clean energy transition. This program—the Clean Energy Incentive Program—is currently open for comment, providing an important opportunity to shape the environmental justice and rural implications of the Clean Power Plan.
The Clean Energy Incentive Program (CEIP) is a voluntary part of the Clean Power Plan that provides support for low-income communities to undertake renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. The CEIP will match state funds to incentivize early investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency before the Clean Power Plan’s first compliance deadline in 2020. The renewable energy projects can happen anywhere, but the energy efficiency projects must happen in low-income communities. This is an excellent opportunity to level the playing field for low-income communities, which often face barriers to accessing renewables and energy efficiency upgrades.
On a wintry day in March, residents from Winona, Minnesota gathered around tables with flip charts and markers to develop a plan for how the Mississippi River community could respond to climate change. The plan included strategies to expand local energy production and efficiency, and shift toward land use and farming practices that could slow floods that have plagued Winona over the last decade.
This type of essential community-level climate adaptation planning is happening in various forms around the country, but these efforts are often limited by divisive climate politics at the national level. A new report from the non-partisan, independent General Accounting Office (GAO) examines how other countries are establishing national-level climate adaptation planning strategies and the growing financial toll the U.S. faces by not taking stronger climate action.
The Clean Power Plan is the predominant plan in the U.S. to address climate change. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is encouraging states to set up regional carbon markets to comply with the plan; however, carbon markets to date have not achieved their intended goals. If states follow the EPA’s advice and set up new carbon markets across the country, they must learn from past mistakes to prevent more of the same underwhelming results.
California’s Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32) is the most prominent U.S. example of a carbon market that has resulted in unexpected outcomes. AB 32 includes a cap-and-trade program to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. The program sets a statewide emissions cap and then distributes emissions allowances to industries covered under the regulation (“covered entities”). A majority of the allowances are given away for free—a reversal of the polluter pays principle—and the remainder are auctioned off quarterly. Each year, the emissions cap and the number of free allowances each covered entity gets are ratcheted down. Ratcheting is intended to increase the value of allowances, but this strategy has not worked as of yet.
In early March, farmers and rural residents of southeast Minnesota gathered for three intensive days of presentations, discussion and deliberation around the thorny issue of climate change. The Winona, Minnesota Climate Dialogue participants, most of them in shirts and jeans, were a blend of ages, cultural backgrounds and jobs. Some had lived in the community their whole lives, while others had moved to the area recently. All said they loved where they lived and cared about its natural beauty—ideally positioned where fertile farmland meets the deeply carved Mississippi River Valley. But, all certainly did not come to the table with any shared view of climate change or common political perspective.
There is a common misconception that you can’t talk about climate change in rural communities because the issue is considered too polarizing. Many would likely wage a bet that a climate discussion would paralyze Winona residents, divide them, and lead to more finger pointing than hand holding. But not here. Despite their differing viewpoints, the 18 participants in the Winona County Climate Dialogue produced a collective statement and action plan, crafted solely using participant input, based on six topical presentations from local experts on weather trends, energy use, water, insurance, public health and agriculture in Winona County.
In this season of political speeches and debates, a harmful myth continues to surface: taking action on climate change will ravage the economy. Recently, this myth has been applied to the Clean Power Plan, the first regulation in the U.S. to limit carbon emissions from existing power plants.
In February 2016, the Supreme Court halted implementation of the Clean Power Plan until a federal appeals court rules on its legality in June 2016. Although implementation of the plan has been stayed, officials in the Obama Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency remain confident that they have strong legal footing and that the Clean Power Plan will resume as planned once it has made its way through the courts.
A new IATP report, titled “The Clean Power Plan: Opportunities for an Equitable Energy Transition in Rural America,” outlines how the Clean Power Plan can benefit all communities, especially the rural communities that produce most of the nation’s energy. The report makes the case that the artificial divide between the environment and the economy obscures the many opportunities for rural America that come along with clean energy development.
As there are more and more calls that public water authorities rebuild their water infrastructure and improve the quality of water supply and sanitation services, the first module of a new Water Justice Toolkit has just been released to celebrate this World Water Day: March 22, 2016. This toolkit, “Public Water for All,” will be of use to all those interested in fighting public-private partnerships and promoting effective and sustainable provision of drinking water supply and sanitation services. It has three sections. As Meera Karunananthan (who coordinated the project) notes while introducing it, the module reflects the collective experiences of organizations and grassroots groups from around the world that are loosely connected through the global water justice movement.
The first section is a guide to re-municipalization and draws on the extensive research on the successful efforts by communities to reverse privatization. Researchers have documented that between March 2000 and March 2015, there have been 235 cases of water re-municipalization in 37 countries, affecting more than 100 million people.
Participants in the Winona Climate Dialogue, held from March 3-5 2016 on the Winona State University campus, identified opportunities for the region to respond to a changing climate. Opportunities included local development of clean energy, creating balanced watersheds, adopting agricultural best management practices, and striving for responsible land use practices.
The Winona Climate Dialogue was the third in a series of Rural Climate Dialogues organized throughout Minnesota by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and the Jefferson Center. The Rural Climate Dialogue model is a unique approach to engaging rural communities on climate change at the local level. Each Dialogue brings together a microcosm of a community to study local climate impacts in-depth for three days and generate a shared community response. The participants are chosen from a pool of individuals who respond to a mailing sent to 5,000 households in the county or to invitations in the local newspaper or on social media.
The Winona Climate Dialogue consisted of 18 individuals from across Winona County, an area of southeastern Minnesota on the Mississippi River marked by gorgeous bluffs and landscapes. Some of the participants had lived in Winona for their entire lives, and some had chosen to move to the area later in life. What united all the participants was a love of the area’s natural beauty, landscape and outdoor opportunities. In the opening introductions, one of the participants professed, “We live in God’s country!”
Early in the morning on March 3, 2016, the environmental justice community was jolted by news of the assassination of Berta Cáceres, the Honduran feminist activist. She was nearly 45 and was shot dead the previous night in her home, in La Esperanza. It seems almost certain that she was killed because of her sustained opposition to illegal logging, agricultural plantations and the construction of dams that caused environmental destruction and displacement of communities. The Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), cofounded by Berta in the early 1990s, has been in the forefront of the fight to stop the construction of the Agua Zarca cascade of four giant dams in the Gualcarque river basin—the spiritual, economic and cultural habitat of the Lenca People.
In 2015 she was awarded the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize for her courage and leadership. At the time she said, “There is a racist system in place that sustains and reproduces itself. The political, economic and social situation in Honduras is getting worse and there is an imposition of a project of domination, of violent oppression, of militarization, of violation of human rights, of transnationalisation, of the turning over of the riches and sovereignty of the land to corporate capital, for it to privatize energy, the rivers, the land; for mining exploitation; for the creation of development zones.”
At the Paris climate talks, negotiators chose not to address the sticky issue of trade rules, and how those rules undermine each nation’s efforts to address climate change. A new ruling today from the World Trade Organization (WTO) may make that willful silence more difficult. Today, a WTO dispute panel ruled in favor of an Obama Administration challenge to India’s solar program—a program that bears a strong resemblance to solar programs in many U.S. states.
India’s solar initiative, known as the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM), is designed to boost the nation’s renewable energy use and create local, green jobs. India’s program requires the purchase of domestically manufactured solar cells and modules in order for companies to receive a variety of government benefits, including favorable rates for electricity purchases. The U.S. Trade Representative charged that India’s “local content requirements” violate WTO national treatment obligations (which require foreign firms to be treated the same as domestic firms). The WTO agreed.
In responding to the WTO ruling, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman issued a warning to other governments attempting to support local, green businesses: “This is an important outcome, not just as it applies to this case, but for the message it sends to other countries considering discriminatory `localization’ policies.”
The tragic situation in Flint is in many ways a cautionary tale of democracy subverted, one that ties directly to the United States’ refusal to recognize basic human rights such as the right to water. These rights are enshrined in international law, including in the 2010 United Nations General Assembly declaration that all nations have a duty to ensure safe drinking water and sanitation.