They said it couldn’t be done. In a state which has one of the highest ratio of electricity bills over average income; In a region where fossil fuel giant Southern Company wields an economic and political stronghold; In a state where voter disenfranchisement is so rife that, though the population is 48% African American, the Public Service Commission which is the steward of energy policies related to utilities, has never had a black commissioner; In a region where much of the energy/climate related funders consider it to be a lost cause because they consider the Southeast, with the exception of Florida and North Carolina, to be a political dead zone for any hope of progressive energy policy; and in a state where years of efforts by the environmental community was faced with crushing opposition that has stunted and progress on energy efficiency or clean energy policy.
Through negotiations that were finalized by Sierra Club lawyers, the Mississippi Power Company and their parent company, the Southern Company, have agreed to: stop burning coal at the Jack Watson and Greene County (AL) Coal Plants by March 2015; cease their opposition to net-metering policies; and invest $15 million dollars in energy efficiency programming for low income households.
How did they do it? What was the role of the Gulfport Branch? First off, the Gulfport NAACP infused a new frame and new voices into a long held struggle, forged by environmental groups, by declaring energy and climate change to be civil rights issues and putting their strength behind these issues.
From there, an intrepid team of Gulfport branch members put together an action agenda and doggedly pushed ahead with their aims, rebuking the skepticism of the naysayers. Over the course of 18 months, the branch worked with community partners, including the Sierra Club, the Steps Coalition, and others, to pursue a steady and focused campaign to achieve clean air for Gulfport and advance a Just Energy Policies agenda for the State of Mississippi. The campaign aims include 1) Establish a clean air resolution through the Gulfport City Council; 2) Stop burning coal at the Jack Watson Coal Plant while ensuring a just transition for the plant workers; and 3) Pass a state level just energy policy platform with strong renewable portfolio standards, energy efficiency resource standards, and net metering policy.
Ruth Story, Gulfport NAACP Branch President:
We are very happy with this agreement which will place people over profit and hopefully be a model for other fossil fueled based energy producers.
Following the release of the Coal Blooded Report, which gave the Gulfport coal plant, Jack Watson, a D- grade on an environmental justice scale, the Gulfport Branch held a series of town hall meetings where they gathered scores of community members, including clergy, teachers, health professionals, business people, elected officials, and others to discuss the impacts of toxins in the air and climate change and hear community experiences and interests. The branch has been absolutely tireless in its pursuit of justice.
Kathy Egland, Gulfport NAACP Member and Chair of the National Board Environmental and Climate Justice Committee:
This victory is important not only for those of us living within a 30 miles radius of Plant Watson, but for the people of Mississippi; and in the aggregate, ultimately has implications for our entire global ecosystem. We applaud the critical role of Sierra Club in finalizing negotiations of an agreement that adheres to so many of our demands.
From here, the branch will continue to work towards establishing the Gulfport Clean Air Resolution to set quality standards for the air they breathe. They will also work with the state conference and partners on advancing and ensuring passage of strong renewable portfolio standards, energy efficiency standards, and net metering policies.