Letter: Ending our reliance on coal benefits Detroiters

Re: Michael Jensen and William Shughart Aug. 5 column “How green energy hurts the poor”: The federal Clean Power Plan is a historic effort to end our overreliance on dirty coal, prevent thousands of premature deaths from harmful disease, and create advanced clean energy jobs.

Because low-income families are disproportionately affected by the dangerous pollution spewed by coal-fired power plants, those benefits are amplified for low-income communities.

But the authors argue that clean air is a “class warfare” issue, and that low-income Americans will bear some hidden cost from breathing clean air as a result of the Clean Power Plan.

Perhaps the authors haven’t set foot in the Detroit neighborhoods where our organization, Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice, sees the real-world impacts of harmful pollution every day.

The most-polluted zip code in our nation is in southwest Detroit — and the disproportionate impact of pollution on low-income and minority populations is a nationwide issue. In fact, across the nation, 68 percent of African-Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant.

Low-income citizens and their families are at a far greater risk of premature death, asthma attacks and other respiratory diseases as a direct result of air pollution, and across Michigan the asthma rate is 25 percent higher than the national average.

At the same time, energy costs are through the roof. Low-income Michiganders already spend a greater percentage of their paycheck on energy than anyone else – even with dirty, coal-fired power plants polluting our neighborhoods.

When it comes to containing costs for low-income families, the answer is simpler (and healthier) than doubling down on coal, which Mr. Shughart suggests is the answer.

First, the cheapest energy is energy we don’t use. The Clean Power Plan sets achievable energy efficiency goals that will lower costs for every American.

Second, by making commonsense investments in clean, renewable energy, we can put the nation on track toward a far more economically sustainable future. Clean energy is more affordable than ever before, and it already saves billions of dollars in healthcare costs by preventing diseases like asthma and lung cancer.

Once again, all of those benefits are the greatest in low-income communities — because the disproportionately high costs of coal on cities like Detroit are mind-boggling.

The coal industry sees the Clean Power Plan as nothing more than a threat to its massive profits, which is why people like Shughart pump out misleading columns like the one we read this week. But for low-income Detroiters, the Clean Power Plan represents the greatest chance in a generation to break the cycle of dangerous pollution that plagues our communities — delivering benefits to those who most need them.

Guy Williams, president and CEO

Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice