Target Climate Change Policies Toward Poorer Communities, NJ Advised

Tom Johnson | September 6, 2019 | Energy & Environment
Rutgers report finds that local advocates prefer earmarked commitments of resources to disadvantaged communities, as well as mandates to achieve specific pollution reductions in those areas

Credit: Twenty20
If states ignore the disproportionate burdens global warming imposes on disadvantaged communities, they are unlikely to achieve their climate-change policy goals, according to a study released yesterday.

The study, authored by experts at Rutgers University as part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) project series, found many states are already targeting climate-change policies to low-income households and communities, environmental justice communities and those living in areas likely to be flooded by sea-level rise and more frequent and intense storms.

“It is widely known, and states recognize, that climate change has disproportionate impact on low-income individuals, communities of color and indigenous residents,’’ said Jeanne Herb, author of the report, along with Marjorie Kaplan of the Rutgers Climate Institute. Herb is executive director of environmental analysis and communications at Rutgers.

These communities also pay a disproportionate amount for energy, spending a larger share of their income on those costs, Herb said. According to Energy Information Administration, one-third of American households have trouble paying their energy bills.

“States and stakeholders alike point to the critical importance of engaging under-resourced communities in state climate policy to develop solutions that reduce energy bills, improve health and reduce carbon emissions,’’ Herb said.

The study focused on the nine states currently in the RGGI, as well as New Jersey and Virginia (which want to rejoin the multistate effort to curb carbon emissions), California, Illinois, and the cities of Austin, Texas, and Columbus, Ohio.

Those jurisdictions have taken the lead in formulating climate-change policies, including launching innovative pilot and demonstration projects in so-called disadvantaged communities to help them adapt to climate change.

Disproportionate pollution in certain communities

In New Jersey, advocates have long pushed for the state’s climate policies to focus on the disproportionate amount of pollution in environmental justice communities, from power plants emitting greenhouse gases and other emissions to incinerators and hazardous waste sites.

A key finding of the study was that local advocates prefer earmarked commitments of resources to disadvantaged communities, as well as mandates to achieve specific pollution reductions in those areas.

For instance, California targets 25 percent of its climate investments to disadvantaged communities, as well as another 10 percent to low-income households and low-income communities. The state also disburses community air grants to develop measures to reduce air pollution in disproportionately burdened communities across the state.

Since Gov. Phil Murphy took office in 2018, he has elevated issues dealing with environmental justice to a higher priority. He issued an executive order directing his administration to funnel RGGI funds New Jersey receives to communities disproportionately affected by pollution and climate change.

In addition, he signed legislation to create a community solar pilot program to help low-income areas benefit from solar projects within their communities.

Still, the study found challenges facing how to best direct resources to those communities. Before many houses in those communities can qualify for weatherization programs to reduce energy usage, they must first make structural repairs to the home, Hart said.

The study also said the private sector will not step up and meet the financial challenges of helping those communities adapt and prepare for climate change. Those hurdles could be overcome through non-traditional financing targeted to communities such as Green Banks in Connecticut, or through government-backed loans.