Countering the Cynical Messaging around the Clean Power Plan

Low-income people and those on fixed-incomes could benefit hugely from the Clean Power Plan, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's proposal to reduce the dangerous carbon pollution from our nation's power plants. As states develop ways to meet the goals set by EPA, they can help their most vulnerable communities by transitioning to clean energy - energy efficiency and renewable energy like wind and solar - thereby lessening the health impacts of pollution, lowering electricity bills, and cleaning up the water and skies.


For instance, low-income and fixed-income households are unfairly impacted by both local power plant pollution like mercury and sulfur, and by climate change which is being driven in part by those same power plants. By expanding energy efficiency and renewable energy, we can cut down on the need for dirty power generation that contaminates surrounding neighborhoods - usually neighborhoods of lower income. And, we can limit future climate change that leads to the risk of asthma, heart disease, cancer and other health harms.


Clean energy can also lower electricity bills. States committed to smarter energy use, which allows people to use less electricity to get the same or better performance, save their residents money. The areas of the country that experience the most energy poverty, where energy costs make up a greater portion of their income, are also the areas of the country with the fewest energy-saving policies in place.


2014 State Efficiency Scorecard ACEEE

Source: Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet; ACEEE


Energy efficiency and renewable energy save people money on their monthly electricity bills - EPA predicts that the changes wrought by the Clean Power Plan can put about $100 back in the pockets of every household every year - but they also end up reducing electricity bills for everyone on the whole grid by reducing our overall needs for electricity from power plants at the busiest hours of the day. This isn't peanuts: Illinois residents saved $150 million every year from these indirect benefits, in addition to about $1 billion saved directly from efficiency investments.


Let's talk jobs, too: clean energy creates a lot of them. Employment in the clean energy sector ranges from manufacturing to installation to maintenance, and has ripple effects as the savings on electricity are spent in other areas. According to Environmental Entrepreneurs, the clean energy sector created about 236,000 jobs from 2012 through 2014. And, according to an NRDC analysis, we could grow that and create 274,000 efficiency-related jobs in 2020 alone under the Clean Power Plan (and saving $37.4 billion for homes and businesses to divert to other needs and other sectors of the economy). These existing and potential jobs are local, cannot be outsourced, and pay above average yet are accessible to people without a college degree.

Jobs Inforgraphic

All of this means that we can reduce bills for people who can least afford them, all while cleaning up our air and water, limiting the impacts of climate change, making homes and buildings less wasteful and more comfortable, creating jobs, and improving the health of all Americans!


It's too bad that cynical messaging is trying to flip that on its ear to preserve polluter profits. A blog post at the Huffington Post was the latest in a flurry of disingenuous editorials criticizing the Clean Power Plan. That post, like others, posits that the middle class and working poor will be hit the hardest by the pollution limits, when in reality these households stand to benefit the most.


All of these editorials are factually wrong because that they all rely on the same tired, flawed analyses that have been debunked time and again, by our experts at NRDC as well as the fact-checkers at the Washington Post and others. These editorials are morally wrong because they use seemingly trustworthy voices and pretend to care about the interests of low-income Americans while protecting the profits that come at low-income Americans' expense.


We agree that energy costs take up a lot of a low-income household's income. We agree that electricity is critical to human development. And we agree that people should be protected from rising electricity bills. Where we differ is that we recognize that energy efficiency and renewable energy promise a kind of empowerment, stability, and yes, affordability that would benefit low-income families.