Some of the most significant benefits of the Clean Power Plan, which the Trump Administration is now proposing to repeal, are to low-income Americans—those most likely to suffer most from climate change.
The CPP set the nation’s first-ever limits on carbon pollution from power plants—one of our country’s largest sources of the pollution driving climate change. In justifying the decision to withdraw, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt attempted to mislead the public, inflating the cost and minimizing the benefits of implementing the rule.
The CPP would deliver obvious climate benefits of reducing carbon emissions roughly 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 in addition to contributing to widespread public health benefits. EPA found that slashing these harmful air emissions would prevent up to 3,600 premature deaths, 90,000 asthma attacks, and 300,000 missed work and school days, resulting in $14 to $34 billion in public health benefits.
Among the many components to the CPP, the rule also established a Clean Energy Incentive Program that would provide additional incentives to states to make early investments in energy efficiency and renewables, targeting low-income communities and communities of color. These communities face a dual crisis of rising energy costs and lack of available affordable housing, making them among the hardest hit by a CPP repeal.
Since 2014, Energy Efficiency for All, a 12-state campaign partnering environmental and efficiency advocates with advocates for affordable housing have worked to leverage state and local resources to complement federal weatherization funds and utility efficiency investments to better serve affordable multi-family housing communities.
Due to the legacy of housing discrimination, redlining and disinvestment low-income families are often forced to make housing choices in which they rely on inadequate or lower quality housing. Poor ventilation can cause homes to be drafty in winter and allow in moisture in summer that leads to mold and illness. Poor construction and inefficient appliances and energy grid connections leave families unable to safely maintain comfortable temperatures, leaving them further vulnerable to illness or potentially deadly accidents.
In addition, rising energy cost are placing an additional burden on families that have little flexibility in their household budgets to meet their needs. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), retail residential electricity rates (the amount you pay per kilowatt-hour, or ¢/kWh) have risen across the nation at a rate of about 4% on average over the last 10 years — faster even than the rise in average rent cost. Climate change will likely exacerbate these trends, as average temperatures rise and unpredictable weather gives rise to greater extremes of both hot and cold. Because of these and other factors, this rate change can vary significantly based on where one lives.
The issues of affordability are particularly acute for renters in multifamily buildings, where close to 50 percent of our nation’s low-income renters live. For example, low-income households—many of whom live in older housing with poor ventilation and aging, inefficient appliances and heating systems—spend, on average, 7.2 percent of their income on utility bills, which amounts to about $1,700 annually out of a median household income of $25,000. That is more than triple the 2.3 percent spent for electricity, heating and cooling by higher-income households.
Nearly 10 million people live in affordable, multifamily housing, and about half of these residences were built 50 years ago. Increasing energy efficiency in these homes could cut electricity use as much as 32 percent. In states like Michigan, Missouri and Pennsylvania, the cumulative benefits are predicted to top $1 billion by 2030. This is an area that needs more investment, not less.
Despite these widespread benefits to the nation as a whole, the potential of energy efficiency in low-income housing is largely overlooked.
The Trump administration’s rollback of the CPP is based on the entrenched denial of the consensus on climate change for no other reason than it suits the White House’s political interests. While the administration has based its political and economic fortunes on the continued extraction and use of fossil fuels, the rest of us will suffer the burdens of climate change, rising energy costs, poorer health and increasingly limited prospects for lasting sustainable livelihoods as dirty-energy industries fail and transition.
To minimize costs, protect low-income communities, safeguard public health, create jobs and lower the risk associated with extreme weather events like the hurricanes that continue to threaten our coastal communities, we must act responsibly to address climate change now while there’s still time.