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More renewable energy jobs would improve black neighborhoods, report says

By Paul J. Nyden

If renewable energy sources begin to produce a higher percentage of energy in West Virginia, new jobs would be created, and health conditions, particularly in poor and black neighborhoods, would improve, according to a new report from the state chapter of the NAACP.

The organization released “Just Energy Policies: Reducing Pollution and Creating Jobs in West Virginia” — at a press conference Tuesday on the steps of the Culture Center at the State Capitol.

“Today, West Virginia ranks 46th of all 50 states in energy efficiency,” Sylvia Ridgeway, president of the NAACP West Virginia State Conference, said. “The state also sits atop more geothermal hot spots than any other eastern state.”

But only limited efforts have been made to use geothermal energy, she said.

“We are looking at the impact on black and poor neighborhoods,” Jacqui Patterson, director of the NAACP National Environmental and Climate Justice Program, said. “Fossil fuel accounts for 96 percent of all the power generated in the West Virginia.”

Patterson opposes mountaintop removal mining for many reasons, including the fact that pollution from those mines is “eliminating species of fish as it pollutes rivers.

“Communities of color and low-income communities also spend a greater portion of their incomes on electrical power,” she said.

Patterson predicts renewable energy sources — including solar, wind and geothermal — could “generate at least 25 percent of our power and create 1.9 million jobs [nationally] by 2030.”

Maya Nye, a member of People Concerned About Chemical Safety, said the organization promotes human rights related to chemical safety.

“There are disproportionate impacts on communities of color and low income people,” Nye said.

Nye and other speakers said the Jan. 9 Freedom Industries chemical leak into the water supply of around 300,000 state residents had “disproportionate impacts” on those communities.

African Americans, the new report states, suffer the most from “the harmful impacts of energy production” and “they are reaping few of the benefits from the energy sector.

“According to a 2010 study by the American Association of Blacks in Energy, while African Americans spent $41 billion on energy in 2009, they only held 1.1 percent of energy jobs and only gained [one hundredth of one percent] of the revenue from the energy sector profits.”

Discussing the rapid depletion of non-renewable energy resources in the world, the report stated, “In order to protect community health and well-being, as well as preserve the planet, we must transition to renewable energy.”

The report advocates several specific changes in existing West Virginia laws:

| The state currently has a “voluntary renewable energy standard of 25 percent by 2025 … West Virginia can show leadership by making it mandatory and focusing allowable sources on solar, wind and geothermal” energy.

| West Virginia law has no “local hire provision.” If state lawmakers passed that provision, “energy projects would significantly increase the amount of tax dollars reinvested in the local economy and provide local jobs to enable people to work near where they live,” the report states. Currently, hundreds of out-of-state workers are being hired to install pipelines and frack for natural gas deep underground.

| West Virginia’s Department of Transportation currently has Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) programs to give disadvantaged businesses — owned by minorities or women — special notices about opportunities to bid on contracts.

The new NAACP report urges West Virginia to also make DBE programs available to help disadvantaged businesses bid on energy contracts.

“At a time when there is growing recognition that West Virginia is at the nexus between climate change impacts and the opportunities to forge new, safer and cleaner pathways for energy production, the NAACP is compelled to advance a justice and equity based analysis of our energy choices and effects on community well-being, and the environment on which we all rely for our existence,” Ridgeway said.

The entire report is available at:

www.naacp.org/blog/entry/naacp-just-energy-policies-report-released.

Reach Paul J. Nyden at

pjnyden@wvgazette.com

or 304-348-5164.


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