By Ilana Cohen
Four years ago, Jacob Abel cast his first presidential vote for Donald Trump. As a young conservative from Concord, North Carolina, the choice felt natural.
But this November, he plans to cast a "protest vote" for a write-in candidate or abstain from casting a ballot for president. A determining factor in his 180-degree turn? Climate change.
Climate didn't become a voting issue for Abel until months after the 2016 election. As a college freshman at Seton Hall University, he found himself increasingly frustrated by lackluster Republican responses to an issue now leading millions to march in the streets.
Abel felt that his party's future, like that of his generation, depended upon it addressing climate change with the appropriate urgency.
While his progressive counterparts helped propel a "Squad" of climate leaders into Congress, Abel advocated for market-driven climate solutions like carbon pricing as a spokesperson for republicEn, a right-leaning climate advocacy organization.
"The Green New Deal was actually a big catalyst for a lot of young Republicans coming forward and pushing for serious Republican solutions" on climate change, said Abel.
Momentum on the left stirred new conversations on the right, as young conservatives banded together in hopes of sustaining both their party and the planet. Their cries for climate action helped open older Republicans' eyes to the risk of losing young voters, and a seat at the table in future climate policymaking, if the GOP didn't change its tune.
"Over the next 10 years," Abel said, he "wants to see Republicans come together with Democrats to come to a realistic solution," along with Republicans proposing "more and more solutions" of their own, including around what Abel considers a critical "middle ground" measure to advance decarbonization—carbon pricing.
"Because we're still kind of relatively new to actually taking this topic seriously and proposing policy," said Abel of the GOP, "I think our policy response could be more robust and more detailed."
Only a decade ago, Abel's story might have been a novelty. Now, it's commonplace. From raging wildfires on the West Coast to Hurricane Sally's massive flooding in the South, climate disasters are politicizing young people across the ideological spectrum who have experienced them first hand.
Younger Republicans are much more engaged with climate change than their parents and grandparents, said Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. The program's research shows young Republicans are more likely than older ones to believe in human-caused global warming and to support climate action.
Frustrated by party leadership that doesn't represent their call for urgent climate action and public discourse that discounts their views, young Republicans also seem more willing to pose their own climate solutions. They don't want to see a World War II-style mobilization; they want pragmatic proposals advancing private sector innovation.
The 2020 presidential election poses a critical test of climate conservatives' willingness to put their environmental concerns before party politics. While some young Republicans who prioritize the issue of climate change remain loyal to Trump and others turn to Biden, a growing number like Abel are not supporting either candidate.
Given Trump's thin margin of victory in 2016, young conservatives who choose not to vote for either major presidential candidate may help Biden just as much as those who vote for him over Trump, Leiserowtiz said, depending on the state they vote in. Millennials and Gen Zers will comprise 37 percent of eligible voters in November, which gives them vast electoral influence, if they vote.
If youth show up in force to oust Trump from office, their votes could provide a "powerful warning sign" for the GOP, Leiserowtiz said. It would affirm that for Republicans to win the youth vote and have a path to the White House moving forward, they must embrace climate action now.
Fractures Among Young Climate Conservatives
While young conservatives have united around the urgency of climate change, they remain divided over how to bring their concerns to the ballot box. Some embrace right-wing attacks painting Biden as a "tool of the left" and find his climate agenda "radical." Others can't find a way to justify voting for Trump, even if it means breaking with their party.
Patrick Mann from Orange County, California, voted for Trump in 2016. But today, he's leading Aggies for Joe at Texas A&M University and is co-founder of Texas Students for Biden.
Mann grew up watching wildfires ravage his home state, nearly forcing his family to evacuate in 2017. The GOP is failing to "meet the moment" for climate action, Mann said. He's hoping Biden will deliver on a promise to "restore the soul of our nation."
Taylor Walker from Pensacola, Florida, is also determined to make her voice heard on climate, including by casting her first-ever vote for president—but not for Biden.
Walker, a statewide campus coordinator for the conservative environmental advocacy group American Conservation Coalition, felt compelled to act on climate change after seeing the lasting environmental and economic damage the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico wreaked on her home state. As a practicing Christian, Walker feels a "responsibility from God to steward the environment," which means fighting climate change while protecting industry.
She lauded Trump's support of Ron DeSantis' run for Florida Governor in 2018. Walker appreciated DeSantis' ambitious environmental vision and said he "passed quite a few green initiatives in the first few months of his term." The governor's environmental record since has been controversial, with DeSantis earning dismal ratings from the Sierra Club and League of Conservation Voters.
Walker also praised Trump's recent commitment to banning offshore drilling on the state's coasts, which came two years after he proposed vastly expanding oil and gas drilling in U.S. continental waters. The move "shows a good faith investment" in finding clean energy alternatives, Walker said.
Walker said she'd examine both major presidential candidates' platforms and records on climate policy up until Election Day, but she doesn't think there's much, if anything, the Biden campaign could do that would convince her to swing left. If Trump can help pivot the GOP in greener directions, she said, "then more power to him."
A False Equivalency
Young climate conservatives may fear climate denial and delayed climate action, but more than that, they fear the growing political momentum around the Green New Deal, the massive spending it entails and Biden's citing of it as a "crucial framing for meeting the climate challenges we face."
Many don't want to split with their party to support a Democrat whose allegedly bipartisan intentions they doubt. If stymieing what they consider a radical green agenda means re-electing a climate change denying president, so be it.
"I'm scared of climate change, but I'm also scared of the Green New Deal and what it means for America," said Ben Mutolo, a republicEN spokesperson and junior at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry.
Mutolo felt encouraged by former Ohio Governor John Kasich's appearance at the Democratic National Convention, but he still struggles to see himself voting for Biden. Though the candidate paints himself as a centrist, Mutolo believes he's "cozying up to the ultra-progressive left."
Mutolo, who wants to see market-based climate solutions like a carbon tax, feels torn between a candidate whose climate plan relies on taking an "All-of-Government approach," and one with no efforts to reign in global warming at all.
Leiserowitz said he appreciated how a conservative might feel Biden's climate plan "doesn't jive with their limited government, free-market approach."
But he sees a strong distinction between voting for a presidential candidate with a $2 trillion climate plan that includes large renewable energy investments, which have bipartisan support, and a candidate trying "to take the country in the opposite direction, towards more fossil fuels."
Equating the two seems "hard to square rationally," said Leiserowtiz. But most people don't vote rationally. Research shows they vote based on their social and political identities, not policy positions, and are influenced by messaging from their social circles.
As someone ready to talk climate solutions, rather than debate science, Mann, the Texas A&M student, has struggled to connect with Republican peers supporting Trump. He believes that people concerned about climate change have a moral imperative to support Biden. "Voting for someone who took us out of the Paris Agreement, you're not going to get progress on climate change," said Mann. "Trump is not making America a leader on this."
Given the vast threat posed by climate change, Mann said, a vote withheld from Biden is just as problematic as a vote for Trump.
Mann knows he can't change people's minds, but that won't stop him from trying. "All I can do is plant ideas in their mind of why it's important" to elect Biden now and put climate leaders into office beyond this November, he said. "Hopefully, those grow."
While some young climate conservatives like Mann are engaging their peers in discussions about the presidential election, others like Walker are more concerned with raising awareness of market-driven climate solutions or getting out the vote for local and Congressional races.
Whatever their course of action, the chance to help shape climate policy for a critical next four to eight years isn't lost on any of these young climate conservatives. How they cast their ballots, and in what numbers, may solidify for the right a reality already made clear on the left—political survival now goes hand in hand with efforts to stabilize the climate and invest in the futures of today's youth and those of generations to come.
This story originally appeared in Inside Climate News and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
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By James Bruggers
In Maine, state officials are working to help residents install 100,000 high efficiency heat pumps in their homes, part of a strategy for electrifying the state. In California, an in-demand grant program helps the state's largest industry—agriculture, not technology—to pursue a greener, more sustainable future. Across Appalachia, solar panels are appearing on rooftops of community centers in what used to be coal towns.
The Trump administration may have pulled the United States out of the Paris climate accord, but most states and many rural areas in America have developed their own plans for reducing carbon emissions and moving away from fossil fuels as they maneuver—often aggressively—to address the threat of climate change.
"Even if the U.S. government has decided to leave the Paris Agreement, we see in the U.S. an enormous movement in favor to climate action," United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said in an interview with Covering Climate Now on Monday. "We see companies, we see cities, we see states, we see the civil society fully mobilized."
Many state and local officials, including those in rural areas, hope stimulus funds aimed at helping rebuild economies ravaged by the Covid-19 pandemic will support renewable energy and other "climate smart" initiatives that cut carbon emissions, while often creating more jobs in emerging industries than traditional infrastructure spending.
The plans for decarbonizing America have been sown and exist like seeds in a parched field, waiting for a drenching rain.
Here are five examples.
In Maine, Federal Funding 'Would Make a Big Difference'
The fingerprints of climate change are all over the state of Maine, from the invasion of temperate species into the rapidly warming Gulf of Maine to summers that are now two weeks longer than they were a century ago. But despite all this change, one thing will stay the same: Winter in Maine will still be cold.
In a state that uses more home heating oil per capita than anywhere in the nation, Maine's climate hawks are looking to make a major change in the way people heat their homes, and help mitigate climate change at the same time.
In 2019, Gov. Janet Mills signed a bill with the goal of installing 100,000 heat pumps into homes in Maine by 2025. This would represent nearly a fifth of the homes in the state.
"It's clearly the electrification strategy," said Hannah Pingree, the state's director of the Governor's Office of Policy Innovation and the Future. "Electrify homes, electrify transportation. That's a strong theme of the Climate Council."
Maine's Climate Council—a group of scientists, industry leaders, local and state officials and residents—is charged with figuring out how Maine will meet a trio of ambitious goals: reducing emissions by 45 percent by 2030 and at least 80 percent by 2050; increasing the state's renewable energy portfolio standard to 80 percent by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050; and making the state carbon neutral by 2045.
Heat pumps—which also cool homes—draw in air from outside and use the difference in temperature between inside and outside air to keep a home comfortable. They are run on electricity, and can be paired with clean energy sources like solar or wind power to eliminate the carbon footprint of home heating.
Mills' plan offers incentives for installing the pumps, thanks to state funding that's being supplemented by some federal low-income housing funds. The program is up and running, but it's something that Pingree said could benefit from an infusion of federal funds.
"The governor's heat pump program is already ambitious and innovative, but to really get to the full scale and take it even further, federal investment would make a big difference," said Pingree, who co-chairs the Climate Council. "Especially when it comes to people's homes, investments in transportation and housing stock, the federal government's participation is extremely helpful and it helps put people to work."
The heat pump program is part of a bigger picture of state and local governments working to get consumers to move away from using fossil fuels for heating. Some local governments in other states are banning natural gas hookups for new construction, and some electric utilities and clean energy advocates are asking California regulators to enact a statewide ban as part of the next update of the state's building code.
Heat pumps are just one part of Maines's strategy, which will likely include a massive expansion of offshore wind and community solar projects and a push to electrify the transportation sector. At a meeting earlier this summer, more than 230 people from six working groups presented ideas to the council—more than 300 actions in all—which are being weighed now.
"If you look at the recommendations from the working groups, one of the cross-cutting ones is finance. We do need to raise revenue, and we also need the federal government to step up," said David Costello, the clean energy director of the Natural Resource Council of Maine. "It's going to be hard for Maine to implement many of the actions that we'd like to implement without increased funding."
California's Grants for 'Climate Smart Agriculture' Are Successful—and Threatened
To say California farm country is central to its ambitious plans to combat climate change seems redundant. The $50 billion agricultural sector is a pillar of the state's economy, the world's fifth largest, encompassing 70,000 farms and ranches.
With such a vast and vital industry (which includes parts of every county in the state), California has created a suite of "climate smart agriculture" programs. The first-of-their-kind programs, launched in 2014 and expanded in 2017, are helping farms become more resilient to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, conserve land and protect ecosystems and communities.
The programs provide grant funds and technical assistance to farms in four key areas: conserving agricultural land against non-farm development; increasing on-farm water efficiency; improving soil health and managing manure to mitigate its climate impacts. The programs, popular with farmers, are receiving at least twice as many applications as there are grants.
They are also popular with nonprofit environmental and agricultural advocacy organizations. The California Climate and Agriculture Network (CalCAN), evaluated the programs' climate benefits and found impressive results. To date, the programs collectively have funded more than 1,250 climate smart agriculture projects and reduced greenhouse gas emissions by more than 1.1 million metric tons of CO2 e (carbon dioxide equivalent) over the life of the projects, the equivalent of removing 67,000 passenger vehicles from the road for a year. The water efficiency programs have saved more than 110,000 acre feet of water (the equivalent of more than 50,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools).
They are also affordable, costing between $43 and $100 per metric ton of CO2 reductions. In a pre-pandemic California, one with a budget surplus and climate policy priorities, the programs would be expanding. Instead, climate smart agriculture funding is in jeopardy. The state, still partially wracked by the coronavirus, is in a worsening recession. Supporters of climate smart agriculture programs worry the state will spend its funding on other priorities.
This at a time when the coronavirus has exposed the need for greater investment in farm country, said Jeanne Merrill, CalCAN's policy director. "We're seeing the pandemic impacts on farmers is clearly a major disruption," she said, "and it's a disruption that can point to weaknesses in our current system. We're taking the lessons learned from the pandemic and applying that to how we can prepare for greater climate extremes. Investing in resilient farming is key."
Across Appalachia, a New Post-Coal Economy Beckons
Coal mining jobs have been crashing for decades in eastern Kentucky, from roughly 30,000 in 1984 to about 3,000 now, undercutting what has long been among the most impoverished regions of the country.
For a long time, elected leaders held what turned out to be false hope that the coal industry would come back.
But a nonprofit based in Berea, Kentucky, the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development, has been working toward a post-coal economy since 1976.
Among its programs: training entrepreneurs and providing low-interest loans to small businesses. In the past dozen years, MACED added energy efficiency and solar power to its mix of programs, saving clients money and cutting carbon emissions at the same time.
It's an ironic twist that rural Appalachian counties that helped power the nation with cheap—though dirty and climate warming—coal have seen residents' electricity bills skyrocket as coal has given way to cheaper natural gas and increasingly competitive wind and solar. Utility customers have been shouldering the costs of shuttering old coal-burning power plants and cleaning up the toxic messes they leave behind, while the power companies doubled down on more expensive coal.
Since May 2015, MACED has helped with 30 solar installations, saving almost $400,000 in energy costs, said Ivy Brashear, MACED's Appalachian transition director. And since 2008, MACED has helped hundreds of homes and businesses reduce their energy bills by scrutinizing them for errors and helping to pay for energy efficiency retrofits, she said. She added that it included, for example, helping a grocery store stay in business to prevent a rural area from becoming a food desert.
"We listen and collaborate with people who are living and working in these communities, and help advance that new economy in ways that are really just and really equitable," Brashear said.
In solar work, MACED has focused on Letcher County, with a population of about 22,000, where businesses, faith communities and nonprofits are tapping their cultural strengths to create a new economy.
Whitesburg-based Appalshop, the 50-year-old arts and education nonprofit, for example, partnered with MACED to put solar panels on its new outdoor performance pavilion, which opened a year ago, to power its headquarters building and reduce electricity bills.
"In the last decade, our energy costs have gone up by 50 percent and were expected to keep rising," said Alexandra Werner-Winslow, Appalshop communications director. "That was not sustainable."
MACED, she said, "was tremendously helpful with our construction," and with the low-interest loan. At the same time, Appalshop sees solar development and energy efficiency as an important economic engine for eastern Kentucky.
MACED's funding includes grants from government and philanthropic foundations. With Congress weighing further ways to help the nation recover from an economic recession caused by the novel coronavirus, it could further a transition to cleaner energy and energy savings in rural areas through targeted investments and tax rebates, said Peter Hille, president of MACED.
"Anything that can (bring) down the front-end cost makes a big difference since that also reduces interest cost on financing over the life of the loan," he said.
Mountain Towns in the West Hope for a 'Green Pathway' Stimulus
Jessie Burley is the sustainability director for the town of Breckenridge, Colorado, a posh, outdoorsy community in the Tenmile Range. Not only is Breckenridge a member of the statewide Colorado Communities for Climate Action but the town is also part of a national organization, Mountain Towns 2030, that's swapping ideas about how to meet a goal of net-zero carbon emissions within a decade, and one of many tourist towns focused on clean energy long before the coronavirus pandemic.
And the resulting economic downturn hasn't changed the goal, said Burley. Sustainability-minded communities recognize that jobs and businesses ought to be a focus of the Covid-19 recovery, since the pandemic has revealed how exposed existing economic systems are, she said.
"Whether it's a virus or whether it's global warming or whether it's some other kind of disaster, we are more susceptible," she said. "We also can't lose sight of the fact that going back to business as usual is not going to be enough."
Members of a Mountain Towns 2030 task force on Covid-19 are pressing for any new stimulus package to include provisions supporting "green pathway" programs, such as green infrastructure, electric vehicle charging or renewable energy jobs. In that spirit, although Breckenridge has suffered steep, pandemic-related revenue losses, a community solar program is pressing forward this year, its grants scaled back from 25 to 20.
Similarly, in Montana, where revenue from natural resource industries makes up 12 percent of the state's general fund and paychecks for 1.2 percent of the workforce, a task force is finalizing a statewide climate change plan this month, said Mark Haggerty, an economist with Bozeman-based Headwaters Economics and a member of the governor's climate task force. Planning is still underway to decarbonize Montana's electricity sector by 2035 and to decarbonize Montana's economy by 2050, he said.
"A lot of this needs to be done in recognition of the fact that [the energy transition] is already happening," said Haggerty, noting that the task force is diverse, including everyone from conservationists to energy officials.
"It is a broad-based challenge, and everyone is affected regardless of where you live or what your political affiliation is," he said of the new climate goals in a world also dealing with Covid-19's economic fallout. "But, also, we need everyone to buy into and ultimately benefit from the changes that we can enact and that will benefit the entire state."
Virginia is the South's First State to Commit to Carbon-Free Energy
In the wake of a political upheaval that put Democrats firmly in control of state government, Virginia in 2020 became the first state in the South to commit to 100 percent carbon-free energy and to join the northeast's Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
Most of the state's coal power would have to shut down by 2024 under the Virginia Clean Economy Act, which also lays the groundwork for a burst of new renewable energy construction. Lawmakers declared large amounts of solar and wind energy and energy storage to be "in the public interest," sweeping aside the regulatory barriers to new renewable energy projects.
This transition to renewable energy already has a footprint in the Hamptons Roads area, where the state plans to develop a wind industry hub to be overseen by a newly created state agency aimed at fostering offshore wind farms. The bill that created the agency stated Virginia's opposition to offshore drilling.
About 25 miles east, Virginia Beach is considering an array of plans to protect homes and businesses from increased climate-related flooding, storm surges and sea level rise, hoping for either state or federal funds to do everything from buying out flood prone homes to possibly building large floodgates to protect its shoreline.
In Norfolk, the state is supporting construction of new reefs using crushed concrete and granite that can serve as a habitat for the eastern oyster and also help shield the city against storm surges and erosion. The effort enabled state officials last year to declare the Lafayette River fully restored under the Chesapeake Bay Watershed agreement.
The Legislature, meanwhile, considered, but rejected, the idea of a Virginia "Green New Deal" public works-style program. Instead, lawmakers opted for a business-friendly approach that had the support of the state's big utilities, Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power, by the time the legislation was signed into law by Gov. Ralph Northam on April 11.
The new Clean Economy Act makes it easier for rooftop solar to spread across Virginia, by expanding "net metering" for households—giving electricity customers credit for the excess solar energy they produce and sell back to the grid. It enables Virginians for the first time to save money on their monthly electric bills by going solar.
If utilities fall short on their obligations to cut carbon energy and expand renewables, they will be subject to penalties that will go into an account to fund job training, with priority given to historically disadvantaged communities, veterans and individuals in Virginia's coalfield regions. Some critics note that this set-up means there is no assured funding for worker transition programs, which could be provided by stimulus programs from the federal government.
Virginia already has more solar jobs (4,489) than coal jobs (2,730), and the latter are concentrated in the rural southwestern part of the state, a Republican stronghold which has lost political power to the state's burgeoning northern suburbs. Diverse, highly educated and tech-heavy communities in the northern part of the state helped Democrats take full control of Virginia's Legislature in 2019, paving the way for passage of Northam's clean energy agenda. A chief challenge in implementing the law will be ensuring that the Republican-dominated, fossil fuel-dependent rural regions that have been resistant to change don't get left behind.
This story originally appeared in InsideClimate News and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
Through net metering programs, homeowners who have installed solar energy systems can get utility credits for any electricity their panels generate during the day that isn't used to power home systems. These credits can be "cashed in" to offset the cost of any grid electricity used at night.
Where net metering is available, solar panels have a shorter payback period and yield a higher return on investment. Without this benefit, you only save on power bills when using solar energy directly, and surplus generation is lost unless you store it in a solar battery. However, net metering gives you the option of selling any excess electricity that is not consumed within your home.
Generally, you will see more home solar systems in places with favorable net metering laws. With this benefit, going solar becomes an attractive investment even for properties with minimal daytime consumption. Homeowners can turn their roofs into miniature power plants during the day, and that generation is subtracted from their nighttime consumption.
What Is Net Metering?
Net metering is a billing arrangement in which surplus energy production from solar panels is tracked by your electricity provider and subtracted from your monthly utility bill. When your solar power system produces more kilowatt-hours of electricity than your home is consuming, the excess generation is fed back into the grid.
For homeowners with solar panels, the benefits of net metering include higher monthly savings and a shorter payback period. Utility companies also benefit, since the excess solar electricity can be supplied to other buildings on the same electric grid.
If a power grid relies on fossil fuels, net metering also increases the environmental benefits of solar power. Even if a building does not have an adequate area for rooftop solar panels, it can reduce its emissions by using the surplus clean energy from other properties.
How Net Metering Works
There are two general ways net metering programs work:
- The surplus energy produced by your solar panels is measured by your utility company, and a credit is posted to your account that can be applied to future power bills.
- The surplus energy produced by your solar panels is measured by your home's electricity meter. Modern power meters can measure electricity flow in both directions, so they tick up when you pull from the grid at night and count down when your solar panels are producing an excess amount of electricity.
In either scenario, at the end of the billing period, you will only pay for your net consumption — the difference between total consumption and generation. This is where the term "net metering" comes from.
How Does Net Metering Affect Your Utility Bill?
Net metering makes solar power systems more valuable for homeowners, as you can "sell" any extra energy production to your utility company. However, it's important to understand how charges and credits are managed:
- You can earn credits for your surplus electricity, but utility companies will not cut you a check for the power you provide. Instead, they will subtract the credits from your power bills.
- If your net metering credit during the billing period is higher than your consumption, the difference is rolled over to the next month.
- Some power companies will roll over your credit indefinitely, but many have a yearly expiration date that resets your credit balance.
With all of this in mind, it is possible to reduce your annual electricity cost to zero. You can accumulate credit with surplus generation during the sunny summer months, and use it during winter when solar generation decreases.
You will achieve the best results when your solar power system has just the right capacity to cover your annual home consumption. Oversizing your solar array is not recommended, as you will simply accumulate a large unused credit each year. In other words, you cannot overproduce and charge your power company each month.
Some power companies will let you pick the expiration date of your annual net metering credits. If you have this option, it's wise to set the date after winter has ended. This way, you can use all the renewable energy credits you accumulated during the summer.
Is Net Metering Available Near You?
Net metering offers a valuable incentive for homeowners to switch to solar power, but these types of programs are not available everywhere. Net metering laws can change depending on where you live.
In the U.S., there are mandatory net metering laws in 38 states and Washington, D.C. Most states without a mandate have power companies that voluntarily offer the benefit in their service areas. South Dakota and Tennessee are the only two states with no version of net metering or similar programs.
If net metering is available in your area, you will be credited for your surplus energy in one of two ways:
- Net metering at retail price: You get full credit for each kilowatt-hour sent to the grid. For example, if you're charged 16 cents per kWh consumed, you'll get a credit of 16 cents per kWh exported. This type of net metering is required by law in 29 states.
- Net metering at a reduced feed-in tariff: Surplus electricity sent to the grid is credited at a lower rate. For example, you may be charged 16 cents per kWh for consumption but paid 10 cents per kWh exported. Feed-in tariffs and other alternative programs are used in 17 of the states where retail-rate net metering is not mandatory.
Note: This is just a simplified example — the exact kWh retail price and solar feed-in tariff will depend on your electricity plan.
The Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE) is an excellent resource if you want to learn more about net metering and other solar power incentives in your state. You can also look for information about solar incentives by visiting the official websites of your state government and utility company.
Other Financial Incentives for Going Solar
Net metering policies are one of the most effective incentives for solar power. However, there are other financial incentives that can be combined with net metering to improve your ROI:
- The federal solar tax credit lets you claim 26% of your solar installation costs as a tax deduction. For example, if your solar installation had a cost of $10,000, you can claim $2,600 on your next tax declaration. This benefit is available everywhere in the U.S.
- State tax credits may also be available depending on where you live, and they can be claimed in addition to the federal incentive.
- Solar rebates are offered by some state governments and utility companies. These are upfront cash incentives subtracted directly from the cost of your solar PV system.
In addition to seeking out solar incentives available to you, you should compare quotes from multiple installers before signing a solar contract. This will ensure you're getting the best deal available and help you avoid overpriced offers and underpriced, low-quality installations. You can start getting quotes from top solar companies near you by filling out the 30-second form below.
Frequently Asked Questions: Solar Net Metering
Why is net metering bad?
When managed correctly, net metering is beneficial for electricity consumers and power companies. There have been cases in which power grids lack the capacity to handle large amounts of power coming from homes and businesses. However, this is an infrastructure issue, not a negative aspect of net metering itself.
In places with a high percentage of homes and businesses using solar panels, surplus generation on sunny days can saturate the grid. This can be managed by modernizing the grid to handle distributed solar power more effectively with load management and energy storage systems.
How does net metering work?
With net metering, any electricity your solar panels produce that isn't used to power your home is fed into your local power grid. Your utility company will pay you for this power production through credits that can be applied to your monthly energy bills.
Can you make money net metering?
You can reduce your power bills with net metering, using surplus solar generation to compensate for your consumption when you can't generate solar power at night and on cloudy days. However, most power companies will not pay you for surplus production once your power bill has dropped to $0. Normally, that credit will be rolled over, to be used in months where your solar panels are less productive.
On very rare occasions, you may be paid for the accumulated balance over a year. However, this benefit is offered by very few electric companies and is subject to limitations.
President Donald Trump’s Climate Change Record Has Been a Boon for Oil Companies, and a Threat to the Planet
By Vernon Loeb, Marianne Lavelle and Stacy Feldman
In the middle of his 44th month in office, two weeks before the start of the Republican convention in late August, President Trump rolled back Barack Obama's last major environmental regulation, restricting methane leaks.
The move represented an environmental trifecta of sorts for the president, who had handed the oil and gas industry another gift in his quest for "American energy dominance," thumbed his nose yet again at climate change and came close to fully dismantling his predecessor's environment and climate legacy.
It had been a busy four years, and a breakneck 2020, as Trump and the former industry executives and lobbyists he'd placed in control of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Interior raced to rollback auto emissions standards, weaken the nation's most important environmental law, open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling and reject stronger air pollution standards, even as research showed a link between those pollutants and an increased risk of death from Covid-19.
"I applaud and strongly support President Trump's continued support for the oil and gas industry," Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt said after the administration proposed its rollback of the Obama methane rules. "During these uncertain times, it makes no sense that we would be placing additional regulatory burdens on our vital industries which are not supported by sound science and do not consider economic impact."
Environmental lawyers and climate activists who've been battling Trump since day one are in agreement that Trump, beginning with his decision to lead the nation out of the Paris climate accord, has done more to roll back and weaken environmental laws and regulations than any president in history.
Trump extolled the accomplishment and put a different spin on the superlative during a White House speech in July, saying, "We have removed nearly 25,000 pages of job destroying regulations, more than any other president by far in the history of our country."
A few days earlier, as his Democratic rival, Joe Biden, unveiled a $2 trillion plan to combat climate change, Trump promoted what he called a "very dramatic" series of revisions to the National Environmental Policy Act, the foundation of environmental protection in the United States that had been signed into law by President Richard M. Nixon 50 years ago.
Environmentalists have used the law to block everything from pipelines to the destruction of natural habitats. Trump has now limited environmental reviews under the act to between one and two years and relieved federal agencies from having to consider a project's impact on climate change during the review and permitting process.
"While our world is burning, President Trump is adding fuel to the fire by taking away our right to be informed and to protect ourselves from irreparable harm," Gina McCarthy, Obama's EPA administrator who now serves as president and CEO of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said of weakening the act.
By late summer, Columbia University's Sabin Center for Climate Change Law had counted 159 actions since Trump took office "to scale back or wholly eliminate climate mitigation and adaptation measures." Many have been slowed or blocked by the courts.
Trump's Long Focus on 'American Energy Dominance'
When Trump delivered his first major energy speech in the fracking fields of North Dakota as a candidate in May 2016, he called for American domination of global energy supplies.
"We are going to turn everything around," Trump declared. "And quickly, very quickly."
Once in office, Trump pursued a policy of unfettered support for fossil fuel development. He immediately signed memorandums to revive the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, projects blocked by Obama.
In early March 2017, his administration ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to stop gathering data from oil and gas companies needed to rein in leaks of methane, a potent short-lived climate pollutant. Fossil fuel infrastructure adds to greenhouse gas emissions, in part by leaking methane into the atmosphere.
He followed up, at the end of March, by issuing a sweeping executive order directing all federal agencies to target for elimination any rules that restrict U.S. production of energy. He set guidance to make it more difficult to put future regulations on fossil fuel industries and he moved to discard the use of a rigorous "social cost of carbon," a regulatory measurement that puts a price on the future damage society will pay for every ton of carbon dioxide emitted.
As his first year in office came to a close, Trump and Alaska's Republican senators inserted a provision into his signature tax cut legislation that called for opening the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for drilling.
In 2018, domestic oil production hit a record high. The result of this, among other things, was the reversal of three consecutive years of declining U.S. carbon emissions.
Many of Trump's regulations have also been tailored to favor the coal industry, often at the expense of cheaper, cleaner energy. Robert Murray, founder of the now-bankrupt coal company Murray Energy and one of Trump's closest industry allies, gave the president a "wish list" early on that became a virtual template for the administration's rollback of regulations.
The administration swiftly lifted an Obama moratorium on new coal leases on federal lands, to no real benefit. The decline of coal continued unabated, but Trump remained an unapologetic champion of the dirtiest fossil fuel.
Trump's War on Science
When U.S. government scientists released their latest volume of the National Climate Assessment in November 2018, it revealed much about the robust, sobering scientific consensus on climate change.
It also revealed the striking disconnect between Trump and essentially every authoritative institution on the threat of global warming.
The president rejected the assessment's central findings—based on thousands of climate studies and involving 13 federal agencies—that emissions of carbon dioxide are caused by human activities, are already causing lasting economic damage and have to be brought rapidly to zero.
"I don't believe it. No, no, I don't believe it," Trump told a reporter after the assessment's release.
In almost every agency overseeing energy, the environment and health, people with little scientific background, or strong ties to industries they would be regulating, were appointed to scientific leadership positions.
One of the administration's first actions was to order scientists and other employees at EPA and other agencies to halt public communications. Several federal scientists working on climate change have said they were silenced, sidelined or demoted. The words "climate change" have been purged from government reports and other reports have been buried.
The administration's mistrust of scientists and its tendency toward science denialism would also become a prominent feature of its response to the coronavirus pandemic, when the president muzzled scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and chafed at the dire predictions of many epidemiological models for Covid-19 deaths.
With the nation in a state of emergency over the pandemic, Andrew Wheeler, a former coal industry lobbyist who serves as Trump's administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, moved in late March to fast-track the "Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science" rule. Wheeler replaced Scott Pruitt, an Oklahoma Republican who served as Trump's first EPA administrator before resigning in 2018 amid an ethics scandal.
Critics call Wheeler's transparency proposal Orwellian and say it would actually limit the use of human health science in environmental decision-making, by eliminating studies that rely on patients' anonymous medical data.
While Trump and his conservative allies contend that the reliance on such studies amounts to "secret science," scientists and leading medical authorities respond that it is standard practice to honor patient confidentiality in peer-reviewed studies.
Numerous studies, including one based on health data from 60 million Medicare recipients, have shown that one of the signature pollutants from the burning of fossil fuels, microscopic particles less than 2.5 microns in width—known as PM 2.5—kill as many as 52,100 Americans prematurely each year.
Less than a month later, as much of the nation remained locked down to halt the spread of Covid-19, a respiratory disease, the Trump administration rejected a recommendation from government scientists to strengthen the national air quality standard for particulate matter. Trump chose instead to maintain the current PM 2.5 standard, handing the fossil fuel industry a major victory.
A 'Concerted Attack' on Alaska, Public Lands
The Trump administration knew no bounds for its fossil fuel agenda, pursuing drilling from the outset on pristine public lands in Alaska and the lower 48 states, where oil companies have long sought access.
Less than four months after taking office, Trump moved to lift Obama's offshore Arctic drilling ban and, then, in July 2017, gave Italian oil company Eni a quick green light to drill exploratory wells.
In March 2018, the Trump administration proposed a resumption of leasing in Alaska's Beaufort Sea. President Obama, shortly before leaving office, had "permanently" withdrawn from drilling there.
By then, Trump had also carved 2 million acres of land from the Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments in southern Utah in what amounted to the most sweeping reductions in protections for public land in U.S. history.
In September 2018, the Interior Department finalized a rule that loosens methane requirements for oil and gas operations on federal lands. A month later, the administration proposed a regulation to streamline and expedite oil and gas permits on national forest lands.
The following summer, the administration proposed weakening protections under the Endangered Species Act for threatened species and critical habitat. Shortly thereafter, the Interior Department commenced the public comment period on its plan for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge that had been included in the 2017 tax bill.
In early August 2020, the president signed the Great American Outdoors Act appropriating $900 million a year to the Land and Water Conservation Fund and $9.5 billion over five years to reduce maintenance backlogs in the national parks.
The bipartisan legislation was sponsored by a House Democrat, but Trump extolled its passage as the most significant act in support of parklands since Teddy Roosevelt.
Still, the administration was preparing, on the eve of the Republican convention, to start selling leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The sale was one of six pending projects in which Trump was pursuing more drilling, logging and mining in Alaska.
One environmentalist called it the most "concerted attack" in 30 years on Alaska's natural resources.
All six of the Trump initiatives could still be blocked or rolled back in the courts, or undone by a new Biden administration working with a Democratic Congress. But for now, they are proceeding, with enormous consequences for Alaska's environment, and global climate change.
One by One, Obama's Main Climate Accomplishments Fell
The same could be said for President Obama's environment and climate legacy: Trump's relentless attacks could be wholly or partially undone by a new administration and Congress. But for now, Trump has accomplished his mission: a near total elimination of his predecessor's most significant measures.
After countless piecemeal rollbacks during Trump's first two and a half years in office, the administration in June 2019 launched its long-awaited attack on Obama's signature plan to tackle climate change. Designed to cut emissions from coal-fired power plants, Obama called it the Clean Power Plan.
While the plan was challenged by industry and 27 states and blocked by the U.S. Supreme Court before Obama even left office, it encouraged many states to begin a process of planning for a transition away from coal-fired electricity at a time when cheaper natural gas and renewable energy already were forcing coal plants to shut down.
Next came Trump's rollback of Obama's 2012 automobile fuel efficiency standards, the single largest step any nation had taken to address global warming by cutting carbon emissions from cars and trucks. The weakened Trump plan will allow automakers to deploy fleets that average just 40 miles per gallon by 2025, instead of 54 mpg.
If Trump's standard ultimately survives legal challenges, cars and trucks in the United States would emit nearly a billion tons more carbon dioxide during their lifetimes than they would have under the Obama standards.
Finally, in mid-August, Trump proposed the rollback of the methane rules, the last major Obama environmental regulation still standing. Methane, a super-pollutant, is 86 times more potent in warming the planet than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.
The Obama rule required oil and gas companies to monitor methane leaks and fix them. The Trump replacement weakens those requirements, allowing companies to release 4.5 million metric tons more pollution each year.
In the climate realm, Obama is best known, of course, as the driving force behind the 2015 Paris climate accord.
Trump first announced in a Rose Garden speech in June 2017 that the U.S. would withdraw from the accord in three years, as soon as the treaty allowed.
So, right on cue, two years later, on Nov. 4, 2019, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo notified the United Nations of the formal exit of the United States, activating the final one-year waiting period.
The actual U.S. withdrawal is set for Nov. 4, 2020, one day after the presidential election.
This story originally appeared in Inside Climate News and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
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By Kristoffer Tigue
In many ways, Maleta Kimmons defines her neighborhood by what it lacks.
Several houses near her home remain vacant. Last week, she had to drive seven miles just to buy groceries. And two weeks ago, at the height of the Minneapolis protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd by a police officer on May 25, looters broke into the only pharmacy in the area, forcing the store to close and leaving many in the neighborhood without easy access to life-saving medication like insulin or inhalers for asthma.
Kimmons, who prefers to go by the name Queen, said what her neighborhood doesn't lack is pollution. Near North, where Queen lives, is one of several neighborhoods that make up north Minneapolis, an area that is predominately Black and is surrounded by a large number of polluting facilities and infrastructure, including roofing manufacturers, a trash incinerator, a metal recycling plant and several major interstate highways.
The ZIP code that covers much of north Minneapolis has the highest hospitalization rates for asthma in Minnesota, according to Minnesota Public Radio. It's also home to the highest rates of lead poisoning among children in the city.
Add the ongoing coronavirus pandemic on top of these factors, and her neighborhood is in a "horrific" situation, said Queen, who is Black.
"Where are you going to get an asthma pump when Walgreens is closed?" she said. "I know a lot of people that have asthma, particularly in North."
Queen moved to Minnesota from Chicago in 1974 at the age of 10, first living in what used to be St. Paul's Rondo neighborhood—a once thriving African American hub before it was cut in half by the construction of Interstate 94 in the late '50s. Her family, she said, was "looking for a better life, where there would be more resources, education, housing."
Eventually, Queen's family moved to south Minneapolis. But in the 1990s, she said, the area became gentrified and too expensive, so she left for the city's cheaper north side.
Queen attributes the issues that north Minneapolis faces today—the vacant homes, the poor access to medicine and food, the proximity to industrial pollution—to a lack of Black ownership and the political power that accompanies wealth. "Right now, over in North, you can't name 10 Black businesses—they ain't there," she said. "If you don't own anything, you're not changing nothing."
As protests raged across much of south Minneapolis, destroying several blocks of Lake Street—another historic city business corridor—Queen helped rally residents on the north side to protect the few Black-owned stores that do exist along Broadway Avenue from more looting. (Much of the looting came from out-of-towners, Queen said.)
The destruction she witnessed reminded her of the stories she had heard of the 1967 riots, which also destroyed parts of north Minneapolis. And it reminded her of seeing her first limousine in 1974 outside of a black-owned pool hall in St. Paul.
She remembers her Black neighbors inside the stretched-out sedan, a symbol of wealth, celebrating in their "loud colors," their button-up shirts and their hard shoes. She remembers just years later, many of the Black-owned businesses shuttering their doors along Rondo's Selby Avenue—today, an upscale food co-op stands where the pool hall used to be.
"You've got to have ownership," Queen said. "It's race, class, money and politics. That is the narrative. That is the story."
St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana: "We've Already Been Written Off"
Reserve, Louisiana, had an agrarian economy when Robert Taylor was born. His parents worked at a local sugar refinery. "I'm a lifelong resident," he said. "I was born here in 1940, so I've seen some changes." When he was a boy, he said, "I could just walk out my house and go out my backyard and I was in a sugarcane field."
By the time he was a young man, the petrochemical industry was moving in. He bought a plot of land on the edge of town and built a home, finished by the time his fourth child was born, he said. "I went and got my wife from the hospital and brought her with our child to our new home."
Around the same time, he said, DuPont began operating a new chemical plant less than a thousand yards from the home.
St. John the Baptist Parish, which includes Reserve, lies within Louisiana's "Cancer Alley," a stretch along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans that is cluttered with petrochemical development and the pollution it brings. The Environmental Protection Agency's National Air Toxics Assessment, which uses emissions estimates to model health risks, estimates that the risk of developing cancer in Reserve is 50 times the national average, and that the five census tracts with the highest risk are all in the area.
But as Taylor watched the development spring up around him, he didn't know any of that. All he knew was that a lot of people seemed to be getting sick. Several family members have died of cancer, he said, while his wife is a cancer survivor. It wasn't until four years ago that Taylor began to connect what he saw with the industry that had developed around him.
"I came home one night and my wife was so sick, and the odor was so horrible coming from the plant, that I called 911," he said. "And the emergency personnel, they were taken aback by the odor. Of course, all of them was white, none of them lived in the community I lived in," he said. Almost two-thirds of Reserve's residents are black.
It never occurred to him that other parts of the parish didn't have it as bad. And soon after that incident, the EPA arrived and began monitoring for a chemical, chloroprene, that is used in the nearby plant and is considered by the agency to be a "likely carcinogen."
"I got the first results of the monitoring, it scared the heck out of me," he said. When the EPA found high levels of the chemical in the air near a school, "that's really what sparked the people to join me and we formed this Concerned Citizens of St. John."
His group has been trying ever since to get Denka Corporation, which bought the plant from DuPont in 2015, to limit emissions. Denka did not reply to requests for comment from InsideClimate News, but a company website says it has voluntarily reduced emissions and that "there is no evidence to suggest Denka's operations are harmful to local residents."
Taylor's wife now lives in California, to be away from the pollution. Some of his children have moved out of the parish, too. His great-granddaughter was born recently nearby, "and she has no future here," he said.
But he feels trapped with his home. Beyond the low value of the property, Taylor said, he wouldn't feel right selling to another family, only to have them live with the same burden.
"We've already been written off. We're walking dead people," he said. "We've been sacrificed."
Bears Ears National Monument, Utah: Trump Ended Tribal Governance
Alfred Lomahquahu helped build the five-tribe coalition that proposed the Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah.
The land might seem remote, but the struggle against racial and environmental injustice has been no different for the indigenous people of the Southwest than for those protesting on the streets of the world's cities.
"People are actually getting united," said Lomahquahu, a Hopi. "That's the main thing that the government is afraid of, that's why they don't want these protests going on."
The coalition's work focused on protecting red rock canyons and pinion-dotted desert containing hundreds of thousands of archaeological sites and areas of deep cultural significance to the Hopi Nation, Zuni Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Indian Tribe and Ute Mountain Utes.
"We started speaking with Obama on a one-to-one, government-to-government basis," said Lomahquahu, now community administrator in the Hopi village of Baqavi in northern Arizona. "Part of our strategy was that we were going to work side by side with [the U.S. Bureau of Land Management] and all these other government entities as part of the planning for the whole monument."
The Obama administration embraced the idea, establishing and empowering a Bears Ears Commission when it created the monument. Lomahquahu was the commission's co-chair until it was abolished when the Trump administration downsized the monument by 85 percent not quite a year later.
Trump administration officials rebuffed commissioners and other monument supporters, he said. "But we already knew at that point that everything that we achieved was going to go down the drain—and for every other minority too."
Yet, the experience also showed the tribes, which have historically been at odds with one another, the power of working together, he added. And, later, conservation groups, professional societies, recreation groups and even large companies like Patagonia joined the tribes' campaign to protect the land from mining and pollution.
"Some people are going to use their privilege in order to help others that aren't privileged," Lomahquhu said. "I think that's something that you really need to look at now ... Some people are privileged more than others and willing to use that privilege to help everyone get back on their feet."
New uranium mining, coal-fired power and oil and gas development in the region are other threats that the Four Corners region has faced. More recently, Indian Country communities have united against Covid-19.
"We're just waiting for Trump to leave office," Lomahquhu said, "so we can get back in there and regroup again and bring all entities back together."
The Rockaways, Queens, N.Y.: Young Leaders of Color Building Resilient Communities
Milan Taylor was 21 when he founded the Rockaway Youth Task Force in 2011, to sponsor community clean-ups and encourage voter registration in this outlying neighborhood on a barrier island in Queens.
A year later, after Hurricane Sandy left homes four- to 10-feet underwater and knocked out power for days, Taylor found himself helping to lead rescue and relief efforts in a neighborhood that was 60 percent African American and Hispanic and the poverty line was 20 percent higher than the state average.
He mobilized hundreds of volunteers in a widespread effort to assess the needs and deliver food and medications to hundreds of home-bound community members, including elderly and disabled residents. As they meticulously canvassed high-rise apartment buildings, the major relief organizations and the NYPD seemed strangely missing in action.
"Sandy gave us the exposure that [the Rockaway Youth Task Force] needed to grow," said Taylor, now 31 and the group's executive director.
And a good thing that is, with climate scientists predicting sea level rise of at least a foot by 2050, which will make the Rockaways more prone to climate change-fueled flooding and storm surges than they already are.
"What we're trying to accomplish as an organization is to build more resilient communities," Taylor said, "We want to be there, whether it's a disaster brought about by climate change or even human disasters"—a reference to the ongoing protests for racial justice and an end to police violence.
Taylor said that it is important for the task force, made up largely of young people of color, to be "led by our own constituency, meaning that those who are directly impacted decide which direction and which campaigns we take on as an organization."
Despite being told after Sandy that his organization couldn't grow, he said, "We're still here ... still doing work, still helping our communities, and still training the next generation of leaders."
He noted that one former RYTF organizer, Khaleel Anderson, is now running for the New York State Assembly.
In the future, Taylor said, he hopes the broader climate movement embraces his work with the task force, which recognizes how race, gender and socioeconomic factors contribute to environmental injustice. "The conversation of Black lives mattering isn't just limited to police violence," Taylor said. "It also extends to climate justice."
Los Angeles: Latino Children in Boyle Heights Play in Lead-Contaminated Soil
Idalmis Vaquero sees such joy in the exuberance of a neighborhood boy named R.J.
The six-year-old runs to her to show off his newest feat—a backflip—on the dusty patch of grass outside of their aging apartment complex owned by the Los Angeles Housing Authority.
Yet there is a dark contradiction between the glee of this boy and the reality of life in the shadow of a lead recycling plant that has poisoned the ground that dirties R.J.'s bare feet.
The boy, like so many other children and families living in this neighborhood, is exposed every day to the high concentrations of lead that have contaminated this mostly Latino community just southeast of downtown Los Angeles.
The Exide Technologies recycling plant and its predecessors emitted lead, arsenic and other dangerous pollutants, leaving homes, apartments, schools, parks and day care centers with dangerously high levels of lead contaminated soil.
Vaquero, 26, a third-year student at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law, grew up in public housing in the Boyle Heights neighborhood, where she still lives and where her parents settled after emigrating from Mexico nearly 30 years ago.
There has been little change in her neighborhood since she was a child. Factories, smoke stacks and exhaust-belching diesel trucks define the community more than grassy parks and welcoming recreation centers.
So she worries about the future of R.J. and other children.
"Living here will have an impact on the quality of life for the rest of their lives," she said. "It makes me mad that our lives are not considered equal when it comes to addressing environmental hardships."
As many as 250,000 residents, mostly working-class Latinos, face a chronic health hazard from exposure to airborne lead and arsenic that subsequently settled into the soil from the recycling plant, according to a 2013 health risk assessment by the South Coast Air Quality Management District.
Lead contamination has been found in children growing up in neighborhoods surrounding the now-shuttered Exide battery plant, a USC study found. Lead is a neurotoxin, and there is no level that is considered safe in humans.
The 15-acre recycling facility operated in the industrial city of Vernon for decades with minimal regulatory oversight. It churned out poisonous pollution around the clock seven days a week as the lead from 25,000 old car batteries was melted down every day for use in producing new batteries.
The facility received more than 100 environmental violations for such things as lead and acid leaks and maintaining an overflowing pond of toxic sludge.
The Exide plant was shut down in 2015 by the U.S. Department of Justice, which also ordered the company to pay $50 million to clean up the site and nearby neighborhoods. The state later pledged $75 million for the ongoing cleanup, which is being overseen by the California Department of Toxic Substances Control.
The cleanup has been painfully slow, which Vaquero takes as yet another signal that her neighborhood and neighbors are just a forgotten footnote in a city defined by the glitz of Hollywood and Beverly Hills.
Vaquero majored in environmental studies at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, where she made the decision to stand up for her community and others like hers.
"The health of these communities need to be prioritized and protected from any more pollution from Exide and other environmental injustices," she wrote. "The community's power and resilience will prevail and environmental justice will be served to Southeast Los Angeles."
This story originally appeared in Inside Climate News and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
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By Ilana Cohen, Evelyn Nieves, Judy Fahys, Marianne Lavelle, James Bruggers
When New York Communities for Change helped lead a demonstration of 500 on Monday in Brooklyn to protest George Floyd's killing in Minneapolis, the grassroots group's activism spoke to a long-standing link between police violence against African Americans and environmental justice.
Elizabeth Yeampierre, executive director of UPROSE, Brooklyn's oldest Latino community-based organization, said she considers showing up to fight police brutality and racial violence integral to her climate change activism.
Bronx Climate Justice North, another grassroots group, says on its website: "Without a focus on correcting injustice, work on climate change addresses only symptoms, and not root causes."
These community organizations in New York have been joined in protest by the nation's most prominent climate change activist groups, including the Sierra Club, 350.org, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sunrise Movement and Extinction Rebellion.
"NRDC has a responsibility to be fully and visibly committed to the fight against systemic racism and for justice, equity and hope," Gina McCarthy, its president and chief executive officer, said in a statement.
"We have marched to the Lincoln Memorial," Friends of the Earth tweeted Tuesday night, "where we are joining thousands of peaceful protesters sitting and standing face-to-face with law enforcement. #BlackLivesMatter"
While some established, and predominantly white, climate and environmental organizations have struggled with diversity in their ranks and faced criticism for being disconnected from communities of color, there are clear signs that they are becoming increasingly focused on racial and environmental justice.
The Rev. Fletcher Harper, an Episcopal priest who is executive director of GreenFaith, a global religious-based climate action network based in Highland Park, New Jersey posted on his blog: "For too long, the environmental movement has not been concerned enough about the destruction that climate change wreaks on Black and Brown communities around the world. For too long, we haven't been concerned enough about Black and Brown people who can't breathe because they are carrying the weight of climate change and White supremacy."
Patrick Houston, climate and inequality campaigns organizer for New York Communities for Change, said he believes the broader climate movement is "becoming much more open to listening and understanding the struggles of the black community" by connecting "overt racism and violence" with "overlooked racism" stemming from proximity to power plants and other fossil fuel infrastructure.
This new show of solidarity, he said, reflects "a work in progress that must continue."
Yeampierre, who is also co-chair of the national Climate Justice Alliance, shares Houston's hope and skepticism. Given what she considers a historically "extractive" use of the climate justice narrative by "big green" organizations, she said those groups must take direction from Black Lives Matter organizers in protesting Floyd's killing.
Alexandria Villaseñor, the 15-year-old climate activist who is co-founder of the U.S. Youth Climate Strike and founder of Earth Uprising, emphatically agreed. "I think that true solidarity is giving Black Lives Matter organizers platforms, donations and putting our bodies out there on the streets with them," she said. "We know that there is no climate justice without racial justice. The exploitation of black people is the greatest extractive system of production of all time and in order to heal the planet, we must have black and indigenous liberation."
While both environmental racism and police brutality have long histories in the United States and in New York City—Floyd's death comes six years after the killing of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man, in a chokehold by a white police officer in 2014—the city's leading youth-led environmental groups, including Extinction Rebellion, the Sunrise Movement and Fridays of the Future, did not exist before 2017.
Villaseñor said she has been pleased over the past week to see organizers with both Extinction Rebellion and Sunrise on the ground in solidarity with racial justice advocates.
Jonathan Kirsch, social media coordinator for the Sunrise Movement's NYC hub, said that the organization has "acknowledged that we are not the authority right now to be commenting on what is being said by the black community."
He added: "We are here to support our black and brown friends and family in this moment, so that their voices are the ones that should be heard—as they always should be heard."
A similar focus on racial and environmental justice by climate change and environmental activists was evident around the nation Tuesday as protests again took to the streets in dozens of cities eight days after Floyd's death. The officer who pinned the handcuffed man to the ground with a knee to his neck, Derek Chauvin, has been fired from the Minneapolis Police Department and charged with third-degree murder.
Mark Reynolds, executive director of Citizens Climate Lobby, said the group—which has volunteers in every Congressional district pushing for bipartisan carbon pricing legislation—is making plans to offer additional training to its volunteers on racism, privilege, bias and diversity in the environmental movement. There also will be a seminar in racial justice included in the group's upcoming annual conference, which will be held online in June.
"It's not enough simply to list diversity as one of our values," Reynolds said in a blog post addressed to the group's members who are black and people of color. "The best way we can proclaim that Black lives matter to CCL, and that we care deeply about your wellbeing and your safety and your happiness, is for us to take concrete action."
He added, "Like climate change, there is no simple fix for racism—but we will not shy away from doing our part in this vital work."
Nathaniel Stinnett, founder and executive director of the Boston-based Environmental Voter Project, said that environmentalists have a special duty to speak out on racial injustice.
In the battle to protect the planet, he said, "every fight we enter is also a choice about whom to protect—will we protect the privileged or the oppressed, the heard or the unheard, those who feel the brunt of environmental impacts or those who don't?"
Stinnett said his group, which works to identify environmental voters and get them to the polls, will redouble its efforts to fight for equality in ballot access as part of its work. "Fighting structural racism is—and must be—integral to the environmental movement's mission," he said.
In Louisville, where thousands of protesters have also been chanting the name of Breonna Taylor, an African American killed by police March 13 while they were serving a nighttime "no-knock" search warrant, environmental activists have been among those expressing outrage.
"Different faith leaders were speaking out about the violence that is perpetrated against black people in Louisville and across our country, and how that is against our values," said the Rev. Dawn Cooley, who is executive director of Louisville-based Kentucky Interfaith Power & Light, a coalition of faith communities that advocates for action on climate change.
Cooley said it is easy to find a connection between climate justice "and the system of racism in our country and in our world. And the same people who are struggling for their basic human rights in America and the larger world are the same people being most impacted by climate change."
Racial and ethnic minorities, she noted, are bearing a disproportionate burden of illness and death from the novel coronavirus pandemic.
'I Worry About My Kids and Their Kids'
Watching the events of recent days unfold have been very painful for Arnita Gadson, a veteran environmental justice advocate who has played a pivotal role helping to keep a large chemical industry in Louisville accountable through a local task force, and also serves as Kentucky's Environmental Climate Justice Chair for the NAACP.
She is contributing to a local climate adaptation plan, and that work has continued through the recent strife, Gadson said, adding, "but I've been scared.
"I am a black woman living in a white world," she said. "If I go out, I might get shot and I may get killed. I worry about my kids and their kids."
In Salt Lake City, Utah, Grace Olscamp has been reaching out on social media, calling on environmentalists to do more than pledge support for people of color on behalf of the environmental group HEAL Utah, which has focused for two decades on hazardous and nuclear waste, as well as air pollution and climate change.
"It shouldn't have taken us this long to really step up and take action," said Olscamp, HEAL's communications director, noting that she, the group's staff and many of its members are white and "definitely in a place of privilege."
It's a problem among environmental organizations, generally, that they have failed to include more people of color and to hold themselves accountable for working toward real change.
She started a Twitter thread Monday by saying: "Protecting the environment must include protecting the health & lives of others. Without recognizing this & acting on it, the environmental movement will be spinning its wheels. The roots of the disproportionate impacts of things like pollution are tied to systemic racism."
"We need to actually speak out and make a stand and not beat around the bush about it," she said in an interview. "We need to protect black lives."
Olscamp said that means working with state and federal lawmakers toward creating better policies and eliminating policies that place a heavier pollution burden on poor communities and communities of color. She added that it will be important to keep conversations about equity on the agenda among the group's 15,000 grassroots members, urging them, for instance, to press for changes in their workplaces and local government.
On the West Coast, The California Water Blog, a must read for environmentalists, journalists and scientists published by the Center for Watershed Sciences at the University of California, Davis, suspended all discussions of water this week in solidarity with the protests.
Monday's Cal Water Blog post was titled "Black Lives Matter."
The post, signed by the center's executive committee, whose members include biologists, geologists, engineers and legal scholars, said: "Institutional racism is urgent and real, and should divert us from topics of California water at this time. The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and countless others are horrific, and the effects of a pandemic are disproportionately affecting communities of color. At the Center for Watershed Sciences, we acknowledge that while we strive for equity and inclusion in our science in line with our Principles of Community, we have a long way to go to address racism and unconscious bias."
The post went on to encourage "everyone to have the hard conversations and do the hard work" to support all people in our communities. "It is moments like this that remind us that bearing witness to racism and injustice is critical and must be a core part of our mission." The blog included links to resources compiled by the Graduate Group in Ecology's Diversity Committee, including several under the heading "Ways white people can take action for racial justice."
Andrew Rypel, an associate professor of biology at UC Davis, wrote the California Water Blog post. He said a team was putting together the usual weekly science blog and "just realized this is ridiculous. The focus should not be on business as usual right now."
"I think we're at an inflection point right now," he added, "where voices matter and using your platforms matter and we thought it was important to point these things out."
The blog, he said, has gotten a tremendous response, overwhelmingly positive. "Mostly, people have thanked us," he said. "It was tough to write that and tough to think about that because we all play a role in how bad the situation has gotten. In some ways, I look back at the 1960s and it makes me so sad that we haven't made much progress."
For the California Environmental Justice Alliance, a coalition of 10 grassroots environmental justice groups throughout the state, supporting the ongoing protests is no stretch.
The coalition's focus is on supporting and creating state policies that protect communities of color from bearing the brunt of fossil fuel pollution and other environmental hazards and offenses. Core members include Communities for a Better Environment, the Environmental Health Coalition and Center for community action and Environmental Justice.
Gladys Limon, the justice alliance's executive director, said the same racist system that exploits these communities, "pillaging the earth" and degrading the health and life expectancies of black and brown people, has led to "the heinous murders," that have upended cities across the country.
Members of the alliance as well as alliance staffers have been participating in the protests, speaking out and issuing statements in support, she said.
"Why wouldn't anyone stand with Black Lives Matter and all those rising up against the heinous murders of black people at the hands of our government," Limon said. "All social justice organizations and simply people of good conscience and those who believe in the promise of our country should be outraged and calling for justice, black liberation and systemic change."
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