NAACP: Coal Plants Disproportionately Affect Communities of Color

A recently-released study by the NAACP found that the United States is home to 75 coal-fired power plants that contribute extensively to environmental and public health hazards in disadvantaged communities and communities of color.

The study, titled “Coal Blooded: Putting Profits Before People,”  evaluated 378 coal-fired power plants in the United States and rated them based on an Environmental Justice Performance Score, a multi-layered score based on environmental impact and the socioeconomic level and demographics of the affected populations. The score was based on the level of CO2 emissions, the level of NOX emissions, the total population within three miles of the plant, and the median income and percentage of people of color living within three miles of the plant. Of those 378 plants, 75 received a failing grade for Environmental Justice Performance.

While those 75 plants were scattered around the country and no doubt located in varying environments, the average per capita income of the residents living within three miles of the plants was 25 percent below state average, and approximately 53 percent were people of color.

The top 12 worst offenders in the study were found to be in Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio and Wisconsin. These plants contributed 1.8 percent of the total power plant emissions, even though they only accounted for 0.8 percent of the total power plants in the country. Most shockingly, however, was that the average per capita income of the residents living within three miles of these plants was $14,626, more than $7,000 below the national average, and approximately 76 percent were people of color. According to the study, the best possible solution would be to close these twelve top offenders, stopping the emissions of carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide into these disadvantaged communities.

The study goes on to make specific, concrete policy prescriptions. In addition to community organizing and advocacy, philanthropic organizations must support grassroots campaigns; policymakers must push for clean energy legislation; power companies and plant owners must take actions to safeguard citizens; and researchers must pay closer attention to the connections between energy production, human health, and the environment.

The conclusion of the report, however, holds the strongest recommendation, and likely to be the most beneficial: Close all 75 power plants that received a failing Environmental Justice Performance score. Closing these plants, it claims, would only decrease power production in the U.S. by 8 percent, a gap that could easily be filled by energy conservation and renewable energy production. The report also highlights the need to provide financial support for low-income housing and for homeowners to invest in clean energy. The report also finds that closing these 75 plants would significantly decrease the number of hospitalizations and illnesses in the surrounding communities, giving a boost to public health in the area.

For citizens and organizers who want to help lead the charge, the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program has created an action toolkit that provides resources to empower and mobilize these communities.

Read the report here, and get the action toolkit here.