Taking Up the Clean-Energy Fight

Amid the sea of statistics I scan each day, one jumped out recently: According to a study, African-American children are four to six times more likely than white children to die from asthma (pdf). That chronic disease, along with other illnesses, is linked to toxins pumped out by coal-fired power plants, and approximately 68 percent of African American families live within 30 miles of a coal-fired plant. Given the disproportionate impact that these illnesses have on black families, addressing these challenges is a civil rights imperative.

The NAACP has decided to shape the emerging clean economy by engaging in it. Starting this year, a full 100 percent of the energy that the NAACP’s Baltimore headquarters consumes will come from Green-E Certified Wind Power. We joined a purchasing group consisting of more than 100 other local community nonprofits and faith institutions facilitated through a nonprofit called Groundswell and the Metro Industrial Areas Foundation.

By strengthening our economic power in the electricity market, we locked in lower rates on clean energy. Our headquarters will switch to clean energy while saving $7,000 on its annual energy bill -- an 18 percent reduction. Furthermore, our members will be able to enjoy the same savings.

Creative approaches like this one are crucial to accelerating the nation's shift away from energy sources that contaminate the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat. We are on our way to debunking a powerful myth that clean energy comes with higher energy costs. It’s an idea that prevents many families from insisting on clean power.

Besides the dollar-and-cents cost savings on monthly utilities, families should also factor in the larger societal benefits of clean energy. How can we calculate the value of reducing the number of children who struggle with asthma or the health hazards inflicted on rural communities, from disasters like theTennessee Valley Authority coal-ash spill or the BP oil spill? We can harness vast, renewable energy without risking our health and our livelihoods.

Curbing power plant emissions and advancing use of clean energy and energy efficiency are clear public health priorities. By bringing our rich history of moral leadership to bear on clean energy, the NAACP seeks to broaden support for small grassroots efforts that can bring about enormous social change.

As we live our values, we invite other nonprofits, community organizations and congregations to join local efforts around clean energy. Together we can bring about the sea change required to transform not only how we power our lives but also how we protect the health of American families.

Jacqui Patterson is director of the NAACP's Environmental and Climate Justice program.