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Jun 13, 2020

Environmental Justice and Anti-Racism

So much has been revealed throughout the year 2020; personally, interpersonally, socially and systemically. Talk about a clear vision. We’re quick to wish back the pre-pandemic days, but the virus has only put a spotlight on the fact that the good ole “normal” days were precisely the problem.

The changes we’ve felt and seen have exposed the reality of how Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) are being failed by our current systems, including environmentally. Environmental racism is very much alive and affects Black and other marginalized communities daily, which is why we cannot address environmental issues without addressing environmental racism. It also highlights the importance of fighting for clean air, clean water and climate change as part of being anti-racist.

The History of Environmental Justice and Environmental Racism

Environmental racism is the unequal impact of environmental threats on BIPOC. It acts as a slow violence against Black and Brown communities, exposing them to higher pollution, while offering them little political or legal recourse against environmental injustices. The term “environmental racism” grew out of the environmental justice movement in the 1970s – 1980s, which was a direct reaction to the larger environmental movement overlooking marginalized low-income communities and their needs.

Health Impacts on BIPOC Communities

In 1980, the General Accountability Office (GAO) published a study that revealed that three-quarters of hazardous waste landfill sites in eight southeastern states were located primarily in poor, Black and Brown communities. More evidence surfaced by activist, Hazel M Johnson, who discovered that her community was experiencing environmental injustices in her neighborhood's water and air grade. She was able to prove that the industries around her community were causing negative health effects around the area. Municipal zoning, housing policy and industrial siting all fall under environmental racism, which still exists to this day.

Lack of Energy Efficiency in BIPOC Communities

When it comes to energy efficiency and innovation, Black and Brown communities have a lot at risk. According to a 2016 study by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) and Energy Efficiency for All (EEFA), low-income, Black and Brown communities spend a much higher share of their revenue on energy. In fact, the average low-income household pays 7.2% of household income on utilities. That’s more than three times the amount that higher income households pay (2.3%). But the impact of higher energy bills goes beyond financial burdens. Living in under-heated or over-heated homes puts tenants at a higher risk of health related issues. More funding for energy efficiency programs at local and state levels would result into energy savings for low-income families, and healthier homes. One organization who is addressing some of the many energy efficiency issues among lower-income families in America is Habitat for Humanity. From federal programs to innovative public and private partnerships, Habitat for Humanity is paving the way for affordable, sustainable housing in low-income communities.

The Importance of Renewable Energy in BIPOC Communities

Access to clean energy must be accessible to everyone. In the past, high up-front costs and FICO credit scores have put some forms of renewable energy (like rooftop solar) out of reach for low-income households. Community solar farms, which can be subscribed to without upfront costs and by renters, are a way for BIPOC communities to tap into clean energy and savings. But, the main issue with low-income access to community solar farms is how some community solar programs are structured. Some subscriptions ask potential subscribers for credit scores and lock them into long-term contracts. This poses a setback for many low-income individuals, who often have low credit scores.

At Nexamp, we believe that access to clean energy shouldn’t be contingent to contract terms of a program. That’s why we’re flexible. You’re free to pay as you go with no upfront cost, no long-term contract and no cancellation fee. Community solar programs like Nexamp’s demonstrate that flexible subscriptions like these can be a vehicle to creating community equity, but those objectives need to be built into programs as a means of enabling everyone access to clean energy.

Environmental injustices are intertwined with social injustices that BIPOC communities face every day. We can no longer stand idly by and accept it. At Nexamp, we vow to do whatever we can to build the future of energy so that it’s clean, simple and accessible to everyone.

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