Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Will EPA’s new regulations enhance sustainable development?

By Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr.
President and CEO,
National Newspaper
Publishers Association

By responding to concerns the African American community has expressed about proposed regulatory and administrative policies, the Biden-Harris Administration has proven to be a responsive champion of minority voices and interests.

Take for example the administration’s recent reversal of its proposal to ban menthol cigarettes, which are disproportionately used by Black and Hispanic adult smokers, following concerns about unjust racial profiling and targeting.

Through the Affordable Connectivity Program, the Biden-Harris Administration connected over 5 million Black households to affordable, high-speed Internet, bridging the digital divide for millions of African American families across the nation.

 

Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. (Courtesy photo)

As the Biden-Harris 2024 presidential campaign continues to gain momentum among African Americans and other communities of color, I encourage the campaign to remain responsive to the issues and needs of those communities that will provide a solid base for the Democratic Party in the 2024 national elections. Recent national polls continue to indicate that the Biden-Harris campaign still has some work to do to match the Democratic voter turnout that was achieved in 2016 and 2020, so responding to these concerns can pay significant dividends in this respect.

One area where Biden-Harris can energize African American voter turnout is addressing their frustration over the rising cost of living, which is often driven by higher energy prices. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this kind of economic pain has fallen more on Black Americans than White Americans.

I applaud my dear friend and colleague Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan who has been a strong advocate for environmental justice and equality for all Americans, and in particular for minority communities.

In a recent speech at my Alma mater, Howard University, one of the nation’s most prominent Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Administrator Regan announced that the EPA would like to eventually shut down existing coal plants and ban new natural gas plants unless they implement carbon capture technologies that are now emerging in the energy sector.

In his remarks, Administrator Regan argued that the mandates are necessary to protect “communities of color” from hazards at coal and natural gas power plants that do not employ carbon capture goals and objectives. Unquestionably, I know where the administration’s heart is on this issue.

However, those proposals will possibly make electricity more expensive and, at times, less reliable — disproportionately hurting minority consumers. Moreover, many of the new natural gas plants targeted by EPA provide reliable critical backup energy sources. That said, Administrator Regan presents some valid points, and the administration can without question find a solution on this issue that pleases all its voter bases.

That process can begin by creating a Biden-Harris Sustainable Development Council. President Bill Clinton established the President’s Council on Sustainable Development back in 1993. The successful purpose of that council was to bring together leaders of environmental and climate justice with the leaders of energy, commerce, and others in corporate America, including leaders from the coal and gas industries, to jointly explore ways to strengthen America’s economy and protect the environment and climate at the same time.

Former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown chaired the President’s Council on Sustainable Development, and I was very pleased to represent the interests of the Environmental Justice Movement as an active member of the council. What we discovered was that the interests of corporate America and the energy sector were not mutually exclusive to the interests of environmental and climate justice.

In other words, a strong economy can and should contribute to sustaining environmental and climate matters — and environmentalists and climate change advocates can and should also work to ensure the growth and sustainability of the national economy.

I am convinced that President Biden, Vice President Harris, and Administrator Regan re-establishing the President’s Council on Sustainable Development — which will work directly with the Congressional Black Caucus Energy Braintrust, major urban mayors, elected officials, energy industry leaders, and with the advocates of climate change and the leaders of the Environmental Justice Movement — will allow them to find a way to implement an all-of-the-above energy approach that works for everyone. The National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), where I serve as the president and CEO, welcomes the opportunity to participate in such an ongoing effort and council.

More clean energy initiatives are needed and proposing them should remain a priority for the administration. That said, the new EPA policy rule on existing coal and natural gas plants should be done in a manner that protects the environment and climate while also enhancing the economy. The administration needs to ensure that new well-intentioned mandates will not have the unintended consequences of making electricity more expensive, especially for underserved communities.

I am confident that the energy-impacting proposals now under review by EPA Administrator Regan and the Biden-Harris Administration will consider the issues I am raising with the ultimate goal of sustainability for the environment, climate, and the economy.
Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. is President and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) and a lifelong civil rights and environmental justice leader who can be reached at dr.bchavis@nnpa.org

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