Derrick Johnson, president of the Mississippi NAACP, wants to increase African American participation in the state’s energy economy.
Photo by Trip Burns.
Across the South, state branches of the NAACP are urging policymakers to consider disparate effects on African Americans when it comes to crafting energy policy.
Released Dec. 17, a new report from the NAACP titled "Just Energy Policies: Reducing Pollution and Creating Jobs," is a comprehensive look at state-level clean energy policies.
Dirty energy policies perpetuate racial inequality, the report states. It examines state renewable-energy portfolio standards—benchmarks some states have set to increase the use of cleaner, renewable fuels—as well as the availability of energy-efficiency resources and net-metering standards.
"The NAACP believes that energy policy can create real public benefits, including millions of good green-collar jobs and building an inclusive green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty," the authors of "Just Energy" write.
It points out that even though blacks endure the brunt of the negative health effects of energy production and spend a larger portion of their incomes on energy, they benefit little from the nation's booming energy economy. The report highlights the challenges facing southern states such as Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee, all of which lag the rest of the nation in all three areas.
Speaking with news reporters during a conference call last week, Alabama State Branch NAACP President Bernard Simelton said social-justice organizations "must continue to fight for justice in the energy sector."
Some of the injustices Simelton and other NAACP leaders reference are highlighted in a 2010 study of the American Association of Blacks in Energy showing that blacks spent $41 billion on energy—including utility bills and gas for commuting—but held just 1.1 percent of energy-related jobs.
A separate survey the National Research Council completed in 2010 found that 68 percent of blacks in the U.S. live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant, many of which emit harmful particulates. As a result, the NRC report states, black children are twice as likely to die from asthma attacks than white children. It also found that even though African Americans smoke less than whites, blacks are more likely to die from lung disease than whites, partly because of blacks' proximity to coal plants.
Derrick Johnson, president of the Mississippi State Branch NAACP, said his organization would continue supporting the implementation of a net-metering program in Mississippi. Net metering would enable residents with solar- or wind-based electricity generators to sell their excess energy back to utilities to help offset their renewable energy investment. Legislative efforts to pass a net-metering bill in recent years have been unsuccessful in Mississippi.
In fact, Mississippi has not had much success in developing its green culture. The state has established neither energy-efficiency or renewable-energy portfolio standards despite having 10,172 potential gigawatt-hours of wind power and 559,056 gigawatt-hours of potential geothermal power, both of which exceed the state's current electricity generation, authors of the NAACP report wrote.
Because Mississippi has so much ground to make up, Johnson believes opportunities abound for African American to cash in on the energy job market as long as the policy framework is in place.
"We should be seeking out new opportunities, new ventures," Johnson said.