Love Thy Neighbor: Building Grassroots Power the Old-Fashioned Way

Love Thy Neighbor: Building Grassroots Power the Old-Fashioned Way

Love Thy Neighbor: Building Grassroots Power the Old-Fashioned Way

In early 2019, I joined with about 15 other climate activists in a series of meetings to study nonviolent direct action and movement theories of change with the goal of building a new approach to climate change at the scale of the crisis. Our work culminated in a January retreat in Washington, DC, where we finalized plans to launch this campaign in May. The retreat was the week after the first reported case of coronavirus in the United States. Little did we know that that virus would upend life as we knew it six weeks later.

The outcome of that project, I should mention, is a movement called Arm in Arm. The goal of Arm in Arm is to ignite a transformational era to end the climate crisis by centering racial and economic justice. Through months of rigorous research and debate, we developed a concept we call “disruptive humanitarianism,” which is this idea that we can do civil disobedience in a way that both highlights the injustices and absurdity of the status quo while also helping communities. We are using disruptive humanitarianism to build autonomous hubs throughout the United States with the hopes of mobilizing millions of Americans to engage in sustained nonviolent direct action.

The Arm in Arm frontloading team met throughout 2019 to study nonviolent movements and develop a model at the scale of the climate crisis

But, as I mentioned, coronavirus had other plans. The world as we knew it changed when, just six weeks later, the coronavirus brought our economy to a standstill. Conflicting reports about the coronavirus and the illness it caused (Covid-19) led to a whole lot of confusion. Months into this pandemic we still don’t know everything we need to know about the coronavirus, but we knew even less then.

If you’re anything like me, you remember those first few weeks vividly. Growing up in Memphis, I loved playing and watching basketball. So I suppose that’s why the first time I remember thinking, “oh wow, this is bad,” was when the NBA shut down mid-game on live TV. Schools, offices, and retail stores followed suit.

There was a real sense of confusion, which resulted in panic-buying and hoarding. (Remember when, for some reason, toilet paper was nowhere to be found?) Disinfectants, hand sanitizer, alcohol, and other items sold out in stores and online immediately. Grocery store shelves were wiped out.

Then the layoffs started — massive, unprecedented layoffs of millions of American workers.

As the world ground to a screeching halt and families began to shelter in place, systemic inequalities shone through more pronounced than ever. The people most vulnerable to Covid-19 — seniors, poor people, people of color, and people with underlying health conditions — struggled to get the personal protective equipment (PPE) they needed to keep themselves and their families safe.

Everyday people couldn’t get tested when they needed to, and when they did get tested the results often took days and even weeks to get back. Meanwhile, politicians and wealthy elites were able to get a PPE, rapid tests and health care pretty much on demand.

It was maddening.

The U.S. Congress eventually passed some relief bills aimed at aiding unemployed people, vulnerable groups, and struggling families and businesses. (Unfortunately, they also gave huge bailouts to mega corporations that didn’t need them — at least not as badly as we, the people. But that’s a topic for another day.)

It was in these early months that I texted my friend Keisha Brown who lives in Harriman Park in North Birmingham. We were checking in with each other and Keisha mentioned that folks in the community didn’t have what they needed … things like masks, disinfectants, hand sanitizer, soap, and healthy food. But before I get to that, I need to provide some context.

The view from Erwin Dairy Road looking south towards Collegeville, Fairmont and Harriman Park. Downtown Birmingham, in the background, is only a couple miles away.

Harriman Park is part of the 35th Avenue Superfund Site in North Birmingham. The EPA has been digging up contaminated soil in the community for the past six years, while several factories still pollute the air day-in and day-out. Keisha’s home is just a few yards away from Bluestone Coke, a cement plant, a concrete plant, an asphalt plant, a quarry, and other polluting facilities. The 35th Avenue Site also happens to have been caught up in a massive political corruption scandal involving a coal company, a law firm, and a former lawmaker.

Many of Keisha’s neighbors are very old and/or very sick, due in part to lifelong exposure to toxic pollution. In other words, places like Harriman Park are extremely susceptible to pandemics like this one.

We have been working with the North Birmingham community for about a decade trying to reduce the air pollution while helping to organize the community for what they want and need. Last year, our Climate & Environmental Justice Organizer Nina Morgan helped to develop a new program that we call the “Community Listening Sessions,” which is essentially just a community meeting to talk about hopes and dreams for the neighborhoods and how to get there. We serve food and fellowship. We laugh. We’re really honest with each other. (As Keisha says, “we keep it real.”) It really is all about listening, hence the name!

Our Community Listening Sessions are an opportunity to folks living in the 35th Avenue Superfund Site and their allies to put together a vision for a healthy, vibrant North Birmingham.

During these meetings, residents told us about their desires for a vibrant community with clean air, thriving small businesses, green spaces, and access to fresh food (among many things). When the coronavirus shut down our economy and threatened the health and well-being of the North Birmingham community, Keisha was quick to remind me that she and her neighbors had already told us what they want and need. Those needs had only become more urgent.

Luckily, we were able to bulk order some face masks and hand sanitizer online. We started collecting fresh produce (thanks to the federal Farmers to Families USDA program) as well as other grocery store items and necessities. Keisha got on the phone and called some neighbors and put together a distribution list. And we started delivering groceries, masks, and other necessities to folks in Harriman Park. After the first few distributions, we realized we could do this bigger and more efficiently. I suggested setting up a produce stand to let everyone come and pick out what they want instead of deciding for them. We identified a vacant lot in Harriman Park near Keisha’s home to set up shop.

The first North B’ham Pop-Up Market in May was tiny compared with today.

We reached out to Jones Valley Teaching Farm, churches, volunteers, and other partners to help us source products. Keisha got the word out to the community and we held the first North B’ham Pop-Up FREE Market in May in a vacant lot in Harriman Park. In July we expanded to Mt. Hebron Baptist Church in Acipco-Finley on the west side of North Birmingham. Each market is basically an impromptu grocery store where the main attraction is fresh, local produce and socially distant fellowship.

“The Pop-Up Market has been a blessing to hundreds of people, including unemployed people, senior citizens, and big families,” Keisha said. “You save an extra $200 or more on fresh produce and personal items!”

This project grew organically from texts and phone calls between two people checking on each other during a truly scary time. There’s something beautiful about finding solutions in old-fashioned organizing and community caring. And at the end of the day, this is what “loving thy neighbor” looks like. I also believe this is the kind of community organizing that North Birmingham needs to build the power necessary to overcome decades of environmental racism and political corruption.

This is disruptive humanitarianism in action.

The Pop-Up Market on August 8 at Mt. Hebron Baptist Church in Acipco-Finley

Below are just a few of the highlights from the past five months.

  • Jones Valley Teaching Farm has graciously provided more than 2,000 pounds of fresh, healthy produce.
  • Churches and volunteers helped us collect more than 3,000 pounds of canned goods and other non-perishable food items.
  • Volunteers from Bham Masks provided more than 1,200 homemade face masks.
  • Dozens of volunteers have helped sort donations, load cars, set up tables, and staff the Market each week.
  • Hundreds of families served and relationships strengthened.

We would like to keep this project going. If you’d like to support the North B’ham Pop-Up Market, please contact Michael Hansen. We need volunteers, financial support, and items for the market.

If you’re concerned with climate change and want to do something about it, I highly recommend you check out Arm in Arm. It’s not a project of GASP — but we do support it and hope you’ll join a local hub.

 

Keisha hands out coupons for a free dozen Nest Fresh Eggs

 

Keisha Brown and volunteers set up for the North B’ham Pop-Up Market in Harriman Park.

 

Michael Hansen

Michael Hansen

CEO

Michael has been with Gasp since April 2013 and now serves as the Executive Director. Previously, he was director of public relations for The Modern Brand Company where he managed communications for the Jefferson County Health Action Partnership’s Champions for Health campaign. Before joining The Modern Brand, Michael served as public relations and marketing coordinator at Birmingham Botanical Gardens.Michael has years of experience and extensive training in the areas of public health and environmental protection. He is a member of the board of directors for the Southeast Climate & Energy Network. Michael worked tirelessly for years to pass Birmingham’s Non-Discrimination Ordinance, which passed in 2017 and led to the creation of the Birmingham Human Rights Commission in 2019.

Contact Michael
[email protected] | 205.701.4270

Groups Ask PSC to Reconsider Alabama Power’s Unprecedented Fossil Fuel Expansion

Groups Ask PSC to Reconsider Alabama Power’s Unprecedented Fossil Fuel Expansion

Groups Ask PSC to Reconsider Alabama Power’s Unprecedented Fossil Fuel Expansion

Gasp and Energy Alabama have formally asked the Alabama Public Service Commission to reconsider its June decision to approve the single largest capacity increase ever proposed by Alabama Power, including including almost 1,900 MW of fracked gas generation. We requested a rehearing to consider updated testimony in light of economic forecasts showing lessened electric demand due to the coronavirus pandemic (Covid-19).

Last year, Alabama Power filed a “Petition for a Certificate of Convenience and Necessity” with the Alabama Public Service Commission. That proposal initially sought to add nearly 2.4 gigawatts of new generating capacity — which would cost customers over $1.1 billion. Energy Alabama and Gasp, represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center, intervened in the docket to question Alabama Power’s lack of evidentiary support to build and buy such a significant amount of new gas resources. 

In March, just before Covid-19 brought the world as we know it to a halt, the Alabama Public Service Commission held a series of hearings on the petition. Witnesses for Gasp and Energy Alabama exposed exposed significant flaws in Alabama Power’s planning and justification processes. After those hearings concluded, we made several key points in our proposed order filed with the Commission:

  • Alabama Power failed to produce the evidence necessary to support its request to increase electric generation capacity by almost 20%. The utility had previously asserted it wouldn’t need new generation sources until 2035.
  • Without a showing of need, Alabama Power’s request amounts to an effort to build rate base and enrich shareholders at the expense of its customers, who will pay for expensive, unnecessary generation for decades.
  • Alabama Power’s own analysis showed that the proposed solar plus battery storage projects were the cheapest options for customers.

The pandemic and subsequent economic downtown have cast even more doubt on Alabama Power’s supposed need for new capacity. In early June, we filed additional information regarding anticipated economic effects of Covid-19, arguing that the economic downturn precipitated by the pandemic called into question the magnitude and timing of Alabama Power’s claims about needing additional power sources. Alabama Power relied on outdated projections from more than two years ago, well before the economic devastation wrought by Covid-19. We argue those projections can no longer serve as the basis for a making a $1.1+ billion investment with customer dollars. 

Despite all of that, the PSC in June unanimously voted to approve everything in Alabama Power’s proposal, including almost 1,900 MW of fracked gas generation, except Alabama Power’s proposed solar plus battery storage projects. The PSC said they were not well-suited to meet Alabama Power’s reliability needs, despite the overwhelming evidence that supported their approval. However, the Commission refused to ask for supplemental information from Alabama Power as to whether its petition was still warranted.

Alabama customers already pay some of the highest electric bills nationwide. (A recent report found that people in Birmingham have the highest energy burden in the nation.) Covid-19 has only worsened the plight of customers struggling to pay monthly bills. If they want to move forward with these monumental investments, Alabama Power should not be allowed to put the entire financial burden on customers. Utility shareholders should bear the risk that the projects may become stranded assets before the end of their useful lives.

We also hope the Commission will reconsider its denial of the solar-plus-storage projects, which were the most economic options according to Alabama Power’s own analysis. That was just the latest in a long line of anti-solar decisions from the Commission. In September, the Alabama Public Service Commission dismissed our challenge against Alabama Power’s discriminatory solar charge, instead approving an increase in the charge.

By denying Alabama Power’s proposed solar-plus-battery storage projects in this docket and then approving an increase to Alabama Power’s unjust solar fee on rooftop solar customers in another, the PSC continues to deny Alabamians the benefits of clean, renewable energy like solar. Alabama has less solar capacity than other states in the sunny South, and far fewer jobs as a result of the PSC’s decisions.

Michael Hansen

Michael Hansen

CEO

Michael has been with Gasp since April 2013 and now serves as the Executive Director. Previously, he was director of public relations for The Modern Brand Company where he managed communications for the Jefferson County Health Action Partnership’s Champions for Health campaign. Before joining The Modern Brand, Michael served as public relations and marketing coordinator at Birmingham Botanical Gardens.Michael has years of experience and extensive training in the areas of public health and environmental protection. He is a member of the board of directors for the Southeast Climate & Energy Network. Michael worked tirelessly for years to pass Birmingham’s Non-Discrimination Ordinance, which passed in 2017 and led to the creation of the Birmingham Human Rights Commission in 2019.

Contact Michael
[email protected] | 205.701.4270

PSC Sides with Alabama Power, Increases Solar Charge

PSC Sides with Alabama Power, Increases Solar Charge

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

PSC Dismisses Challenge Against Alabama Power’s Discriminatory Solar Charge, Approves Increase

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Today the Alabama Public Service Commission dismissed a challenge against Alabama Power’s discriminatory solar charge, which, since 2013, has limited the rights of Alabama homeowners and businesses to create solar power on their own properties and reduce their electric bills.

Over two years after the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), on behalf of Gasp, and Ragsdale LLC, on behalf of two private Alabama citizens, initially challenged Alabama Power’s unjust rate treatment of solar customers, the Commission has granted the utility’s motion to dismiss the original complaint and approved its proposal to increase the existing charge.

Recent decisions in other states have come to a different result. Those decisions have often rejected, or required a review of, these types of charges. For example, the Alabama Commission’s decision follows a recent ruling from the Kansas Supreme Court to strike down a similar solar charge as discriminatory. SELC alerted the Commission to the Kansas decision in May.

“Today’s decision by the Public Service Commission hurts Alabama Power customers and the state,” said Keith Johnston, Office Director of SELC’s Alabama office. “As the nation moves forward with cleaner energy and the jobs that it creates, the Commissioners and Alabama Power continue to do everything they can to stop it. Not only do they allow this unfair charge to citizens to continue, they increase it.”

“Given the overwhelming attendance at November’s public hearing, it’s clear that access to solar is incredibly important to the people of Alabama, and the economic growth, bill relief, and energy choice that come with it,” said Gasp Executive Director Michael Hansen. “It is unfortunate that the Commission has once again put the interests of Alabama Power over cleaner, more affordable choices that would greatly benefit Alabamians, our economy, and the environment.”

The groups are currently considering their options and assessing next steps. For more information, contact Emily Driscoll (Southern Environmental Law Center) ([email protected], 404-641-8108) or Michael Hansen (Gasp) at ([email protected], 205-746-4666).

Background

One of the highest backup fees, or “standby charges,” of any regulated utility nationwide, Alabama Power’s unjustified and discriminatory monthly fee on customers who install and use solar panels to power some of their energy needs at their homes, businesses, and schools charge has impeded Alabama’s solar progress.

Based on the size of a homeowner’s solar system, the $5 per kilowatt monthly fee is added on top of other charges that these customers continue to pay each month to Alabama Power. For the average 5 kilowatt rooftop solar system, this charge results in an additional $300 charge per year, or approximately $9,000 over the life of the panels, slashing solar customers’ average savings in half.

In April 2018, the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), on behalf of Gasp, and Ragsdale LLC, on behalf of two private Alabama citizens, jointly filed a complaint asking the Alabama Public Service Commission to determine that Alabama Power’s rate treatment of solar customers is unfair, contrary to public interest, and otherwise unlawful.

Alabama Power filed a motion to dismiss the complaint in June 2018, as well as a separate filing in Docket No. U-4226 proposing modifications that seek to increase Rate Rider RGB from $5 to $5.42 per kilowatt each month. This new docket was deemed an “informal” docket under PSC rules because it was an increase to an existing rate.

In July 2018, the groups filed a motion to intervene in the informal rate docket for Alabama Power’s proposed modifications to increase Rate Rider RGB, while simultaneously seeking a suspension of that informal rate review pending the outcome of our formal complaint. The groups also opposed Alabama Power’s motion to dismiss, and amended their initial complaint to include claims related to the Company’s proposed increases in the informal rate docket.

Over a year later, in August 2019, the groups filed a reply to Alabama Power’s responses to the Public Service Commission staff’s data requests filed in late July 2019. The filing explained that the utility’s responses to staff’s questions confirm that there is no justification for the discriminatory monthly fee in either its original form that had been in place for over six years, or the proposed increases to the charge.

The filing also challenged Alabama Power’s estimate that gathering the necessary data and completing a sufficiently detailed analysis in an effort to prove the charge is justified would take up to three years, andargued that solar customers should not have to pay the charge while this analysis takes place.

Nearly a year after the groups filed a motion requesting a hearing, the Commission held a hearing in November 2019, which drew such a large crowd that many attendees had to stand in the aisles or the adjoining room to hear testimony. Neither Alabama Power attorneys nor the Commission staff asked any questions of the plaintiffs’ expert witness. The administrative law judge adjourned the hearing announcing that a decision would be issued during a regularly scheduled meeting and would be made public on the agenda in advance.

###

About Southern Environmental Law Center
For more than 30 years, the Southern Environmental Law Center has used the power of the law to champion the environment of the Southeast. With over 80 attorneys and nine offices across the region, SELC is widely recognized as the Southeast’s foremost environmental organization and regional leader. SELC works on a full range of environmental issues to protect our natural resources and the health and well-being of all the people in our region. southernenvironment.org

About Gasp
Gasp is a nonprofit health advocacy organization based in Birmingham, Ala. Our mission is to reduce citizens’ exposure to air pollution, educate the public on the health risks associated with poor air quality, and encourage community leaders to serve as role model by advocating for clean air and clean energy. gaspgroup.org

BREAKING: PSC Grants Request to Refund $100M to Customers

BREAKING: PSC Grants Request to Refund $100M to Customers

BREAKING: PSC Grants Request to Refund $100M to Customers

On Wednesday, July 15, 2020, Gasp and 12 other organizations, led by Daniel Tait at Energy Alabama, petitioned the Alabama Public Service Commission to provide some relief to Alabamians struggling with ongoing economic impacts of COVID-19. We sent a letter urging the Commissioners to refund customers for the more than $100 million that we have overpaid to Alabama Power for fuel costs through May of this year.

“After COVID-19, many states around the country took action to refund customers for overpaid fuel costs,” Tait said in an email to AL.com. “Some customers may be months behind on their utility bills and the least we can do is to return their own money. We’re hopeful that the Alabama PSC will stand on the side of the people.”

The PSC initially balked at the idea, telling al.com that they could not take such action. But that was never the case, and the Commissioners apparently reconsidered. Today, they voted to do just what we asked. PSC President Twinkle Cavanaugh released a statement to the blog Yellowhammer News immediately in which she estimates that the standard bill credit to be around $25.

“Returning $100 million to customers of Alabama Power is the right thing to do at just the right time,” she told the blog. “The coronavirus pandemic has had such a significant impact on Alabama families and small businesses. Putting money back into the pockets of hard-working Alabamians is one of the ways we can help on the road to recovery.”

We couldn’t agree more, Commissioner. This decision will help a lot of Alabamians. We’re elated that you took the advice of Gasp and our partner groups.

 

Read the July 15 letter below:

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Submitted via e-mail

Alabama Public Service Commission
Commission President Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh
Commissioner Jeremy H. Oden, Place 1
Commissioner Chris “Chip” Beeker, Place 2
100 North Union Street
P.O. Box 304260
Montgomery, AL 36130

On behalf of the members of the undersigned organizations, we urge you to take immediate action to refund customers for the amount they have overpaid Alabama Power for fuel, according to information filed in Docket 18148. As of May 2020, customers have overpaid Alabama Power for fuel by $112 million.1

Considering the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19), customers need relief now more than ever. The Alabama Public Service Commission (PSC) has a duty to all Alabamians to act immediately.

The PSC did not take official action to cease disconnections and late fees, despite requests from community organizations throughout the state. Georgia Power, the sister company of Alabama Power, is set to begin disconnections today, July 15 however, neither the Alabama PSC nor Alabama Power have communicated its plans to the public.

Thousands of Alabamians are at risk of disconnection and many are likely months behind on their utility bill payments. Data from North Carolina shows just under 800,000 residential customers and 60,000 non-residential customers eligible for disconnection and owing $253 million in payments.2

The PSC is able to provide some financial relief and Alabamians deserve decisive action from its elected leaders.

In Florida, the Public Service Commission ordered the state’s regulated utilities to refund fuel savings back to customers. Tampa Electric refunded customers $130 million3, Florida Power & Light issued customers a one-time bill credit of just over $204, and Duke Energy provided customers a one-time ~20% reduction in their monthly bill5.

We urge the Alabama Public Service Commission to issue an order to refund customers the $112 million in excess fuel costs they have paid Alabama Power. We further ask for an update from the Commission on its plans for utility disconnection and late fee policies through the end of the year.

As we stated in March of this year, the Alabama Public Service Commission has an opportunity to provide that reliability and stability to the people of Alabama during the one of the greatest public health and economic crises of our lifetime.

We still remain hopeful that you will yet rise to the challenge.

Regards,

Rev. Dr. David Barnhart, Pastor, Saint Junia United Methodist Church
Carla Crowder, Executive Director, Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice
Rev. Carolyn Foster, Tri-Chair, Alabama Poor People’s Campaign
Michael Hansen, Executive Director, Gasp
Robyn Hyden, Executive Director, Alabama Arise
Cindy Lowry, Executive Director, Alabama Rivers Alliance
Rev. Michael Malcom, Executive Director, Alabama Interfaith Power and Light
Cara McClure and Eric Hall, Co-Founders, Black Lives Matter Birmingham
Charles Scribner, Executive Director, Black Warrior Riverkeeper
Stephen Stetson, Senior Campaign Representative, Sierra Club
Daniel Tait, Chief Operating Officer, Energy Alabama
Jessica Vosburgh, Executive & Legal Director, Adelante Alabama Worker Center


1 See: https://www.pscpublicaccess.alabama.gov/pscpublicaccess/PSC/PSCDocumentDetailsPage.aspx?DocumentId=0a56a562-f1e0-4303-b5b1-7f42e398e9db&Class=Filing
2 See: https://starw1.ncuc.net/NCUC/ViewFile.aspx?Id=24043568-beb8-47e7-bf32-723aed9ca95f
3 See: https://floridapolitics.com/archives/325342-teco-plans-to-pass-130m-in-fuel-savings-to-customers-to-help-offsetcoronavirus-losses
4 See: https://www.floridatoday.com/story/news/local/2020/03/30/fpl-bills-may-cut-may-doe-coronavirus-economics/5086973002/
5 https://www.wtsp.com/article/news/health/coronavirus/duke-energy-florida-lowering-may-bill-21-percent/67-f6658a1e-5a91-4a97-b654-f47363ca3147

COVID-19 and Environmental Justice:  A Call to Action

COVID-19 and Environmental Justice: A Call to Action

COVID-19 and Environmental Justice: A Call to Action

Community-Based, Environmental and Civil Rights Activists Across Country Issue Statement and Unified Demands

Racial Inequalities Laid Bare by COVID-19 Pandemic and Response Require Effective Action to Address Race Discrimination and Segregation

New York, NY — A broad alliance of environmental justice groups, activists, allies, and partners from across the country, today released a call to action highlighting that disparities experienced by people of color during the COVID-19 crisis reflect environmental racism and a long history of discrimination and segregation. The statement shows how the confluence of crises in the US has exposed the sacrifice zones to which we relegate communities of color, immigrants, indigenous people and other marginalized groups, and includes specific steps the country must take to begin to rectify the legacy of harm from racist policies and institutions. As the country confronts systemic racial inequality, the alliance is speaking out during this unprecedented time to affirm the goals of the Black Lives Matter movement, condemn the epidemic of police killings of people of color, and call for an end to the disproportionate death of people of color resulting from environmental racism.

The call to action can be found here.

“How many times have we heard those advocating for environmental justice and equal protection demand a ‘paradigm shift’ over the past forty years? How many times have we heard these same communities and advocates ask U.S. EPA and other agencies to investigate the cumulative effects of multiple sources of pollution bombarding the places where they live, work, attend school, worship and play? We’ve said over and over that we ‘could not breathe,’ and too many were dying from proximity and exposure to nearby sources of pollution. For the most part our cries and demands for reduction of pollution went unheeded,” said Vernice Miller- Travis, Executive Vice President for Environment and Sustainability, Metropolitan Group, a longtime member of the alliance and one of the statement’s authors. “Today, the syndemic of environmental and racial injustice, and the novel coronavirus have brought into dramatic relief that exposure to fine particle air pollutants is making these same communities the epicenter of illness and disproportionate rates of death from COVID-19. Maybe now, when so many in these communities are dying needlessly, we can finally get them the help they so desperately need and deserve.”

Signed by over 60 groups and individuals who have worked for years on issues of environmental justice, civil rights, and the environment at local, state and national levels, the call to action highlights how the legacy of systemic discrimination contributes to the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus on communities of color. It calls for eight steps forward to dismantle the structures that perpetuate inequality. These include equal protection under the law to address inequalities in housing and environmental exposures, an end to discriminatory segregation, access to clean water, and stronger enforcement of environmental laws, among others.

The call to action was drafted by the Title VI Alliance, which works to ensure that environmental and land use policies are at the forefront of progress toward justice as the nation confronts a legacy of racial discrimination and grapples with reforms ranging from policing to health care. The Title VI Alliance was formed more than a decade ago as a space to regularly convene local, state, and national advocates and activists across the country to exchange advice, strategize, and draft state and national legislation to advance equal protection under the law. Many activists, individuals, and other groups across the country signed onto the statement in solidarity.

Vincent Martin, a Detroit, Michigan resident and long-time environmental activist, said, “Black communities in Detroit have been hit hardest by COVID, and I’ve lost a number of family members. It’s not surprising because we have been subject to years of unhealthy air and pollution. It’s time for action. We can’t wait another day.”

Marianne Engelman Lado, Director, Environmental Justice Clinic, Vermont Law School, said, “For too long the country has tolerated or even promoted policies that concentrate sources of pollution – everything from refineries to sewage plants, industrial hog facilities to incinerators – in communities of color and low-income communities, and the consequences are more deadly now than ever. We have to change course, recognize that industrial polluters should be held accountable under civil rights laws, and send the message that it is no longer acceptable that whether you get sick and die prematurely is related to race in this country.”

McGregor Smyth, Executive Director of New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI), said, “We are proud to work with such committed community partners across the country at this pivotal moment to shed light on the deep inequality and bias the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement have brought to the forefront. Together, we advance solutions that put the lives and welfare of communities of color, indigenous people, immigrants, and frontline workers first. For over forty years NYLPI has fought in community-led campaigns against the systemic problems of environmental racism, xenophobia, disparities in health access, and discrimination against people with disabilities. While our communities have won victories along the way, deeply rooted systemic barriers to equality remain. Our hope is that this moment of recognition of the structural nature of racial discrimination in our society makes us stronger and brings us closer to true equality, progress, and justice.”

Dr. Gayle Dine Chacon, Former Surgeon General of the Navajo Nation, said, “Native people have shown our resilience for centuries. Just as we have used resilient strategies to address the lack of clean water, access to health care, educational inequality, the digital divide, and abandoned uranium piles poisoning our land, we must use resilient strategies to address COVID-19. Until the United States government upholds its treaty obligations to Native people, where we ceded our lands for the right to housing, healthcare, and education, we will rely on our courage, wisdom and resilience to survive this latest threat, just as we have survived all the previous threats to our existence.”

Rosie Bongiovanni, Executive Director of GreenRoots Chelsea, said, “COVID-19 has brought to bear what many of us have been voicing for years: structural racial and classism have saddled brown and Black communities with a disproportionate share of the health and environmental disparities. We’ve seen that our community of Chelsea has gotten sick and is dying in unprecedented numbers. There is no question that this is due in part to decades of racial and environmental injustice. GreenRoots is committed to fight against anti-Blackness, racial, cultural and ethnical biases and discrimination.”

Maya Golden-Krasner, Deputy Director of the Climate Law Institute at the Center for Biological Diversity, said, “COVID-19 has laid bare the pervasiveness of racism in our society— from public health and environmental injustice to unequal education, housing, and workplace conditions. Now is the time for a fundamental restructuring of our economy to stop sacrificing people and start investing in our communities, especially communities of color.”

J. Michael Chavarria, Governor, Santa Clara Pueblo, Chairman of All Pueblo Council of Governors, said, “The All Pueblo Council of Governors continues to advocate for the federal government, our Trustees, to address our urgent needs during this National Health Emergency. The federal government has treaty obligations to protect the health and safety of Pueblo people – obligations that have never been fulfilled, leading to the heavy impact of COVID-19 in some of our Pueblo Nations. Our relationship with the federal government is not based on race but rather based upon our status as political sovereign governments engaged in a government to government relationship, established in the US Constitution, supreme court decisions, treaties, statutes and federal Indian law.”

Amy Laura Cahn, Senior Attorney, Interim Director – Healthy Communities & Environmental Justice, Conservation Law Foundation, said, ““The data is clear: COVID-19 is attacking Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities at astronomical rates. For generations, our legal system has withheld resources and legal protections from these communities while shielding whiter, wealthier areas from environmental harm. Now is the time to create new systems that prioritize the rights, health, and self-determination of those who have been denied these freedoms since before this country’s inception.”

About the Title VI Alliance:
The Title VI Alliance brings together local, regional, and national organizations and activists, many of whom have been working together for more than a decade within and in support of the environmental justice movement. Members have filed civil rights complaints and have substantial experience with the failure at all levels of government to implement and enforce a meaningful civil rights enforcement program that would address deep and scarring racial inequalities in the location of polluting sources, exposure to toxic substances, and environmental enforcement. Many of the participants, including members of environmental justice, civil rights, and environmental groups, have sought enforcement of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 across administrations, raising concerns about the utter failure of the government – including but not limited to the EPA – to enforce the law.

Signatories to the statement include:
Alaska Community Action on Toxics
Amigos Bravos
Azul
Center for Biological Diversity
Center for Environmental Health
Children’s Environmental Health Network
Clean Water Action
Conservation Law Foundation
Conservation Voters New Mexico
Deep South Center for Environmental Justice
Earthjustice
Environmental Justice Clinic, Vermont Law School
The Forbes Funds
Great Basin Resource Watch
Gasp
GreenRoots
Multi-Cultural Alliance for a Safe Environment
National Black Environmental Justice Network
Natural Resources Defense Council
New Mexico Environmental Law Center
New York Lawyers for the Public Interest
PODER
Rio Grande Indivisible
River Source
Save the South Fork Salmon
Sierra Club
The Sierra Fund
Toxic Free NC
Veterans for Peace
Golden Rule Project
WE ACT for Environmental Justice
West End Revitalization Association
Western Watershed Project
Yale Center on Climate Change and Health, Yale School of Public Health
Mustafa Santiago Ali
Marc Brenman
Rob Brenner
Robert Bullard
Debbie Chizewer
Michael Churchill
Jennifer Clarke
Thomas De Press
Christopher Brady Eaves
Steven Fischbach
Ebony Griffin
Richard Grow
Earl Hatley
Adrienne Hollis
Polly Hoppin
Helen Kang
Marva King
Gregg Macey
Vincent Martin
Dayna Bowen
Matthew Vernice
Miller-Travis
Marisa Perales
Cynthia B. Peurifoy
Michelle Roos
Wyatt G. Sassman
Gerald Torres
Carlton Waterhouse
Ronald H. White
Sacoby Wilson
Katherine Wolf
Beverly L. Wright
Tseming Yang

###