The White House’s carbon emissions regulations have opened a major rift between President Obama and some black and Hispanic leaders who fear the climate change policies will drive up poverty in low-income areas, kill jobs and raise electricity rates for families that can least afford it.
Days after the Environmental Protection Agency released its Clean Power Plan, which calls for a 32 percent reduction in carbon pollution by 2030, some black leaders say the plan will disproportionately hurt poor people, especially minorities, who traditionally have been among the president’s strongest supporters.
While Mr. Obama this week vehemently denied that the policy will harm poor Americans, the EPA seemed to recognize that it must spend more on energy efficiency in low-income areas as part of its broader plan.
The agency says it will award credits to states for each renewable energy and energy efficiency project they undertake. In low-income communities, the EPA said, the energy efficiency credits in 2020 and 2021 will be doubled, and states can use those credits to offset the steep emissions cuts Mr. Obama is requiring.
The EPA stresses that energy efficiency is a key piece of its proposal, and supporters of the Clean Power Plan argue that more energy-efficient homes, cars and businesses can more than make up for any short-term bump in electricity rates.
But some influential black and Hispanic leaders, including the U.S. Black Chamber of Commerce, say the administration is failing to grasp the real consequences of the proposal. They fear the Clean Power Plan could decimate poor communities and raise poverty rates, and they question whether the EPA’s energy efficiency credit program ultimately will work.
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“I’m very concerned that poor people will always pay the price for people who happen to have a vision. … That goes for the EPA, for anyone who isn’t concerned about poor people. The electricity bill is going to skyrocket for poor people,” said Charles Steele Jr., CEO of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and, aside from the carbon regulations, a staunch supporter of Mr. Obama.
Mr. Steele said the EPA’s energy efficiency credit program may not bring the benefits the administration expects.
“They’re trying to balance the scales, but you don’t do it like that. … Who says this is going to happen? Who is going to say the investment is going to take place?” he said.
Mr. Steele’s fears are shared by other black and Hispanic leaders.
In June, for example, National Black Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Harry Alford testified before a Senate panel and said the Clean Power Plan will devastate minority communities.
“The Clean Power Plan would increase black poverty by 23 percent, Hispanic poverty by 26 percent, result in cumulative job losses of 7 million for blacks, nearly 12 million for Hispanics in 2035, and decrease black and Hispanic median household income by $455 to $550, respectively, in 2035,” he told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, citing a study commissioned by the Black Chamber.
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The U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce also has raised serious concerns about the ramifications of the Clean Power Plan.
But Mr. Obama and administration officials argue that the regulations, while helping reduce overall U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and make the nation a global leader on climate change, will carry specific benefits for minority communities.
Supporters say investments in renewable energy will spur job creation. They also contend that asthma and other serious health problems related to dirty air will become less common, bringing benefits to low-income families in inner cities with the worst air quality and those who may not have the same access to quality doctors and hospitals.
“We’ve got critics of this plan who are actually claiming that this will harm minority and low-income communities — even though climate change hurts those Americans the most, who are the most vulnerable,” Mr. Obama said Monday while formally announcing the Clean Power Plan and attacking Republicans for opposing Obamacare.
“Today, an African-American child is more than twice as likely to be hospitalized from asthma; a Latino child is 40 percent more likely to die from asthma. So if you care about low-income, minority communities, start protecting the air that they breathe, and stop trying to rob them of their health care,” he said.
Despite the president’s remarks, the Clean Power Plan’s potential impact on low-income areas will be a key point for Republicans as they seek to dismantle the regulations.
Top Republicans on Capitol Hill say they intend to block the plan any way they can. A bipartisan group of attorneys general from across the country is preparing lawsuits to challenge the regulations in federal court, and several Republican governors have vowed to ignore the rules entirely.
Some Republicans specifically have cited the plan’s impact on low-income families.
“The administration says, ‘Well, this will encourage people to buy more energy-efficient appliances, use less electricity and get better windows.’ Who do you think are going to be the last people to get the more energy-efficient appliances and the last people to get better windows and the last people to get more insulation?” Sen. Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican, said Tuesday.
“This impacts poor families and working families in a negative way,” he said.
• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at email@example.com.
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