The impacts of pollution often hit the poor the hardest. And experts predict that climate change will worsen the situation. However, the shift to clean energy offers a chance to prevent the worst impacts of climate change, while lessening the toll that dirty fossil fuels are currently wreaking on some of our most vulnerable communities.
Our nation limits mercury, lead, sulfur, and other dangerous air pollutants and is now poised to deal with the carbon emissions hastening climate change. The best way to do that is a strong embrace of energy efficiency to make our homes and buildings more comfortable using less energy, as well as advance clean energy sources like wind and solar. These are the core policies of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) proposed Clean Power Plan to reduce dangerous carbon pollution from power plants and they offer Americans huge added environmental, economic, and health benefits.
Polluters and their allies insist that cutting power plant carbon pollution will increase energy costs, but that is simply not the case. In fact, the transition to a cleaner energy future will help low- and fixed-income Americans lower their electric bills by an average of 8 percent. This is a huge impact as fixed-income households spend a much higher percentage of their income on energy costs.
Nationally, the Clean Power Plan's efforts to curtail carbon pollution will help prevent up to 6,600 premature deaths, 150,000 asthma attacks in children, 3,300 heart attacks, 2,800 hospital admissions,and 490,000 missed work/school days annually in the United States. A sizable impact will be felt by those with the least resources and least access to quality healthcare -- low- and fixed-income Americans; in part because low-income communities are stuck living closer to dirty power plants.
Energy Efficiency Benefits
Energy efficiency can be the single best energy resource investment for low- and fixed-income households struggling to pay their utility bills. People can reduce their energy use and their energy bills to further stretch their dollars. Further, investments in efficiency by some customers can actually lower bills for all customers on the system, and even lower the price of electricity sold in regional markets. Reducing electricity consumption reduces the pollution from burning fossil fuels.
As consumers save money and reduce their use of energy, efficiency upgrades will make living environments more comfortable and healthier. This can help preserve affordable housing by reducing operating expenses for landlords and lessen rental turnover while increasing property values. For example, rural low-income communities benefit from innovative rural electric cooperative programs like How$martKY, which allows customers to pay for efficiency investments through monthly installments on their utility bills and saves the average home 25 percent on their energy costs. In addition, weatherization services are often provided for seniors at county, state, and federal levels, improving quality of life, enhancing health and indoor comfort, and promoting an active lifestyle.
Renewable Energy Benefits
Investments in renewable energy help low-income communities by providing steady power not subject to the same sudden fuel shocks from coal or gas price spikes. Today, companies offer solar energy as a benefit and rural communities in the United States are being revitalized by local wind farm development. Renewable energy will continue to become more affordable as it grows and, as a result, an increasing number of fixed- and low-income households will receive meaningful environmental, health, and economic benefits.
Because energy affects every aspect of our daily lives, access to clean energy can transform the living environment and help to address many of the challenges that low- and fixed-income communities face. One of the most positive effects of the Clean Power Plan will be to stimulate more investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy to maximize a wide array of health, economic, environmental, and societal benefits, while curbing harmful pollution that threatens our communities and our planet.