The Clean Power Plan (CPP) is the first major regulation on greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. The EPA issued the final CPP rule on August 5, 2015, which includes a phased “glide path” toward full compliance in 2030. As one of the most significant environmental rules in history, the CPP will be an instrumental factor in the transition of the electricity system in the coming decades. But, as with most federal policy on climate change, a critical challenge of the CPP is how it addresses equity and justice in its implementation and enforcement.
Most environmentalists have applauded the CPP as a climate game changer. The electricity sector accounts for 31 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. and according to the EPA, the CPP will result in a 32% reduction in these emissions, from 2005 levels, by 2030. However, in the initial proposed rule, which EPA released for public comment in June 2014, equity or environmental justice were largely absent. In response, Environmental Justice advocates expressed their objections about the Administration’s lack of attention and concern for our most over-burdened communities.. In response, in the final rule the EPA included that:
While these insertions are improvements, they fall far short of what is truly required for equity and justice to have a meaningful and effective place in national climate and environmental policy.
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Historically, one of the mainstream environmental movement’s major shortcomings has been its avoidance or exclusion of environmental issues affecting communities of color. Recent studies now have documented what Indigenous and environmentalists of color have been objecting to all along – that the mainstream U.S. environmentalist research and political agenda has largely insulated itself from the needs and concerns of communities of color.
The Clean Power Plan, while generally applauded by environmental organizations, must also be assessed in terms of its future impact on already-overburdened environmental justice communities. Some key EJ questions include: