The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), in conjunction with Little Village Environmental Justice Organization and the Indigenous Environmental Network, released a report analyzing sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions in conjunction with demographic factors, including race, income and population density. The report, entitled “Coal Blooded: Putting Profits Before People,” demonstrates the urgent need for community action focused on shutting down coal plants located in low-income communities and communities of color.
Not only are low-income communities and communities of color more likely to suffer the immediate, local negative impacts caused by a coal plant’s operation (e.g. health problems caused by contaminated groundwater and poor air quality) but they are also the communities that will be disproportionally impacted by the effects of climate change. In identifying and analyzing coal plants in terms of the communities in which they are located and the demographics of the people most immediately impacted by a plant’s pollution streams, Coal Blooded highlights issues relevant to both climate justice and environmental justice.
Coal Blooded systematically studies 378 coal-fired power plants nationwide and evaluates each plant in terms of its environmental justice performance – how the plant affects low-income communities and communities of color. This same type of analysis is also applied to coal companies in order to determine their corporate environmental justice performances. After conducting its analysis, each plant covered in the report is scored based on the following factors: SO2 and NOx emissions; total population living within three miles of the plant; the median income and percentage of people of color among the total population living within three miles of the plant.
In total, 75 plants got an “F” for their environmental justice performance grade (16 of these plants are located within the Southeast). Of the coal companies analyzed in the report, 12 companies received an “F” – including Duke Energy and Southern Company, who operate coal plants in the Southeast. Of the 5.9 million Americans who live within three miles of a coal-fired power plant, approximately 3.6 million live within three miles of a coal plant owned by one of these 12 “failing” companies.
In addition to the report, NAACP has also released the Coal Blooded Action Toolkit aimed at empowering communities with the necessary framework and tools needed in the fight against coal. The toolkit is broken into five parts: Investigating Coal Pollution in Your Community, Awareness-Raising and Education, Determining the Ask and Mapping the Plan, Infrastructure and Taking Action/Media Outreach. Because the report was written to inform and appeal to multiple audiences (e.g. community organizers and activists, environmental organizers and activists, philanthropic organizations), the toolkit is designed to give each audience its own set of tools to utilize in furthering its particular goals. The toolkit identifies potential information sources and partner organizations as well as provides sample questionnaires, powerpoint presentations and videos that community/environmental organizers can use in their efforts to close coal plants.
We at SACE applaud NAACP and its partner groups for undertaking such an important project and producing and distributing the tools and information communities will need to join in the fight against dirty coal. Sometimes we lose sight of the ground level impact coal plants have on those who live in their shadow. Coal Blooded does an excellent job at bringing the focus back on these communities while teaching all of us how we can do more to help those who have been paying the highest costs for cheap coal.