In the face of poverty and pollution, Richmond, California community members are on the frontlines of organizing to create a clean, democratic and equitable economy. This grassroots effort, driven by Richmond’s low-income communities of color, is leading Richmond out of the shadows of the Chevron Refinery into the sunlight of a resilient and thriving local clean energy future. Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN) and Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) are anchoring the Our Power work in Richmond, CA.
Background: Moment of Crisis and Opportunity
Richmond is a working class, and predominantly people of color community impacted by decades of environmental blight and economic divestment. It is home to a 3,000 acre Chevron Oil Refinery – the largest stationary greenhouse gas emitter in the State of California and the effects of this facility are compounded by cumulative health impacts causing kids to have higher asthma rates in the region. We also suffer high rates of unemployment and home foreclosures. In the midst of these challenges, we are building strength to exploit some key opportunities.
We are building strength through:
- Momentum and alignment within the environmental justice groups in addressing extreme energy impacts. Our grassroots environmental justice community halted the expansion of Chevron’s dirty energy project that resulted in preventing nearly 1 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions. We are the first responders fighting for workers and community health and safety on the state, regional and local level after the August 6th, Chevron that sent 15,000 residents and twelve workers to local hospitals.
- Inside – Outside strategies. We have used electoral work as a method to advocate for people and policies in our local government that are aligned with our agenda. This creates opportunities for more coordination between community forces and the apparatus of our local government against extreme energy interests.
Key opportunities that we are engaging:
- Richmond is currently the largest city in the United States served by a Green Party Mayor committed to climate protection, green jobs, greening the city, and adaptation.
- Richmond is also the first majority people of color community in the nation to have Community Choice Energy that permits any city or county to aggregate the clean energy for residents, businesses and municipal facilities to facilitate the purchase and sale of electrical. We are working to create a new, clean, green, democratic and equitable economy for Richmond.
The work in Richmond currently centers around stopping extreme energy in the form of the refinery and making Richmond a solar city. The vision for a just transition to a local living economy includes multiple sectors that the Our Power Campaign has laid out and in these initial stages of our Hot Spot work, we are choosing to move with our current momentum around clean energy and from there build out a more comprehensive platform over time.
An initial step to realizing our vision is working to pass a policy that will prohibit refining of dirtier grades of crude oil. When successful, these policy wins will close off California refineries like Chevron to tar sands and other grades of domestic dirty crude.
Just as crucial and timely as stopping the flow of dirty crude, we are working to usher in alternative sources of energy and sustainable economic development by making Richmond a solar city. Renewable energy expansion will free Richmond from Chevron’s economic grasp by stimulating jobs and economic development. By building strong partnerships with labor, we will ensure that burgeoning jobs in energy efficiency and renewable energy manufacturing, installation and maintenance are career path, safe, family supporting jobs that contribute to the healthy, resilient and thriving communities we all want and need.
In Detroit, you can find some of the country’s worst polluters (a coal plant, an oil refinery, a waste incinerator), several Superfund sites, and one of the nation’s highest rates of asthma among children. At the same time, Detroit is the site of an inspiring grassroots urban renewal — including a Zero Waste Coalition, recycling programs, and a growing food sovereignty movement, and a vibrant youth movement. The East Michigan Environmental Action Council is the anchor for the local alliance that is pulling various strands of work together into a unified local-to-regional expression of the Our Power Campaign.
Background: Community Resilience as Pathway to Local Living Economies
Detroit’s political landscape is full of nuances, challenges and hope. As a whole, it favors a business and corporate environment at the expense of the health, safety and security of the masses of poor, working and in some cases, middle class people. The hope for Detroit lies in its history of not laying down. In spite of the challenges and hardships, people on the ground are organizing and building resilient communities. Detroiters are fighting against takeovers, land grabs, lack of access to healthy foods, housing foreclosures and utility shutoffs. More importantly, Detroiters are fighting FOR a self-determined city with food security, quality education, places to live, and opportunities for employment. Each of the organizations listed in our local Detroit Climate Justice Alliance section (link to below), while representing different and overlapping struggles taking place in the city, also are just a fraction of the people advancing a vision for a resilient city.
At the Climate Justice Alliance’s national September 2012 convening, EMEAC committed to deepening its role in helping to build community resilience to climate change, while exposing the causes of extreme energy and the false solutions proposed by its industrial and corporate emitters. While thousands of Detroiters go without utilities and water, our power system as a whole is dependent on highly destructive and polluting sources of energy, such as mountaintop removal, nuclear power and hydraulic fracturing. This leaves frontline communities in places like Detroit vulnerable to toxic pollution and too often without consideration for evacuation, treatment or reparations for bearing the health burdens to provide power the entire society.
Detroit Climate Justice Alliance: Emergent Approach to Just Transition Vision & Strategy
In November 2012, EMEAC convened a group of key community members to begin conversations about the meaning of climate change, extreme energy, just transition, community resilience, and what they look like in the lives of Detroiters. This group grew into the Detroit Climate Justice Alliance. We believe in the power of collective process and relationship building as the foundation from which shared vision and strategy emerge. Through the Detroit CJA, we examined the ways that communities have already been grappling with the impacts of climate change –and defined what our work would look like over the coming year. In this first phase, the group is focusing on building common analysis in order to then develop a shared vision for a just transition for our city as well as a strategy to get there. We are currently dissecting such jargon as climate change, resilience, local living economies, and extreme energy dependence. The Detroit CJA members agreed take time to really understand the problems and are now raising awareness amongst our respective members and communities about dirty energy sources, their effect on our children’s health, and how burning oil and coal negatively affect weather patterns and food production around the world. Furthermore, a critical part of emergent strategy is for us to understand each other’s work, approaches, and successes. Through the strategic exchanges taking place in the Detroit CJA, we will align and collectivize our vision and solutions.
Detroit Climate Justice Alliance members include: Hanifa Adjuman, Education Director, Detroit Black Community Food Security Network; Shane Bernardo, Outreach Coordinator, Earthworks Urban Farm; Linda Campbell, Building Movement Detroit; William Copeland, Youth Director, EMEAC; Kae Halonen, Chairperson, Southeast Michigan Jobs With Justice; Jerry Hebron, Northend Christian CDC and Oakland Ave Farmer’s Market; Charity Hicks, Eat4Health Fellow, EMEAC; Joel Howrani Heeres, Sustainable Communities Coordinator, WARM Training Center; Ife Kilimanjaro, Co-Director EMEAC; Joan Ross, Director of North End Woodward Community Coalition; Sarah Sidelko, Co-Founder, Fender Bender Detroit; Sam Stark, Jobs Committee member, Southeast Michigan Jobs With Justice; Kathryn Lynch Underwood, City Planner, City of Detroit Planning Commission.
Local to Regional Movement Building: Midwest Academy for Climate Organizing
In addition to working cross-sectorally with Detroit groups to build community resilience to climate change and combating false solutions, we aim to work regionally with frontline groups and communities to build capacity for long term movement building. We envision this taking the form of a Midwest Climate Organizing academy that engages participants in training on Climate and Our Power 101, direct action, leadership, and facilitation.
Black Mesa, AZ is a hot spot for transitioning out of extreme energy in the form of coal fired power plants and into clean, renewable sources of energy and jobs. This ten year Just Transition Initiative and current local manifestation of the Our Power Campaign is anchored by the Black Mesa Water Coalition.
Background: Protecting and Restoring the Mother
Black Mesa is significant to the Navajo people for a number of reasons. Four sacred mountains located in Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado surround the traditional homeland of the Navajo people. Together these mountains form the boundaries of the Navajo people’s home and universe. Within these four mountains, there are several more sacred landmarks that are strongholds of Navajo language, culture, ceremonies and teachings. Black Mesa is one of these strongholds. In the Navajo worldview, Black Mesa represents the woman and mother, head of the home outlined by the four sacred mountains. The waters of Black Mesa are her blood and the coal of Black Mesa is her liver.
The Challenge: Extreme Energy and Economic Dependence
Black Mesa is also home to two coal mines operated by Peabody Coal Company: the Black Mesa Mine and the Kayenta Mine. Coal from the Black Mesa Mine was mixed with water from the Navajo Aquifer – sole source of drinking water in the region – and slurried through a 273 mile long pipeline to the Mojave Generating Station (MGS) in Laughlin, Nevada. MGS provided cheap electricity for the major southwestern cities including Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Phoenix for nearly 40 years before being shut down in 2006. The Kayenta Mine provides coal to the Navajo Generating Station (NGS) located in Page, Arizona. NGS’ primary job is to pump water from northern Arizona to central and southern Arizona through the Central Arizona Project (CAP). NGS is also the only coal-fired power plant in the country that is majority owned by the federal government through the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. This infrastructure, which transported essential resources to the deserts of central and southern Arizona, essentially built the state.
The coal mines on Black Mesa are part of a legacy started in the early 1920s to ensure the Navajo Nation’s economic dependence on fossil fuel development. The Navajo Nation’s first Tribal Council, created in the early 1920s, was actually a business council formed explicitly to sign deals with large energy corporations. Nine decades later, our Nation is an illustration of a broken economy dependent on fossil fuels. Despite promises that uranium, oil, gas, and coal leases would bring in millions of dollars in royalties and create thousands of jobs, a visit to our reservation reveals a completely different reality. The Navajo Nation’s unemployment rate hovers around 54% and the population’s average income is $7,500/year. While utility lines run right over our heads, 18,000 Navajo households live without electricity. This accounts for 75% of all un-electrified homes in the United States.
In addition to the 2,250 MW NGS, the reservation is surrounded by four other large and toxic coal-fired power plants: the San Juan Generating Station (1,800 MW), the Four Corners Power Plant (2,040 MW), Escalate (250 MW), and Cholla Power Plant (995 MW). These plants create air pollution on our sparsely populated reservation that rivals big cities such as Denver, CO. The fossil fuel economy has left us with polluted air and land, contaminated and depleted water, resulting in various health ailments and social problems in our communities. Climate change is another concern that looms on the horizon, promising drastic changes in ecosystems and weather patterns.
The Just Transition Initiative: A Vision for Moving Towards Local Living Economy
The Just Transition Initiative is Black Mesa’s manifestation of the Our Power Campaign. Since it started in 2005, this initiative serves as a model for how other communities dealing with extreme energy can fight to shut down polluting facilities AND put in place clean, community controlled sources of energy and green economy jobs that build off of the strengths of the local people, culture, and land.
The Black Mesa Water Coalition implements the Just Transition Initiative through three programs:
No Coal and Environmental Justice Program
- to hold Peabody Coal Company accountable for the damage done to Black Mesa’s water, environment, and community health;
- to permanently close the coal mines on Black Mesa; and
- to replace the coal-fired power plants fed by the Black Mesa mines with renewable energy.
- The Black Mesa Solar Project is a holistic approach to energy development that takes into consideration community participation and benefits, job training and environmental impact. The long-term vision of the project is to establish a solar manufacturing facility and a series of 20MW to 200MW solar photovoltaic installations on the abandoned mine land of Black Mesa.
Navajo Green Economy Program
- to develop long-term, sustainable, locally based “green” economies that place value not only on profits, but also on the protection and preservation of lands, waters, air, culture and future generations. This program houses pilot projects that exemplify an appropriate development path that honors the sacred ecological relationships and incorporates traditional practices into economic development.
- The Navajo Wool Market Project is aimed at building local Navajo capacity to improve the quality of wool production and to elevate access to a fair market value for Navajo wool producers.
- The Food Security Project works with seven communities to begin working towards revitalizing, strengthening and supporting the local food systems of the Black Mesa region.
- The Climate Justice Solutions Project has two key goals: to educate the communities of Black Mesa about climate change and engage them in creating local solutions to this global issue. These local solutions can reflect both adaptation strategies, such as restoring regional watersheds, or mitigation strategies, such as transitioning from coal to solar energy development on Black Mesa.
Leadership Development and Movement building
- The goals for our movement building work are two-fold. First, we aim to build a strong regional environmental justice movement led by indigenous communities and organizations.
- Second, we aim to support larger environmental and social justice movements by engaging in strategic national and international alliances, such as the Climate Justice Alliance, that reflect and therefore build power with and for the work of BMWC. In 2010 we established the Southwest Indigenous Leadership Institute (SWILI), which directs Indigenous youth on a leadership development path that values and reflects sustainability.
The state of Texas has some of the greatest economic disparities in the nation. The Southwest Workers Union strives to close this gap by organizing low-income workers, families, and youth. Through their fight for economic and environmental justice, this member-based organization anchors the work of the Our Power Campaign in San Antonio, Texas.
The low-income communities of San Antonio face many issues related to labor and the environment. High security has criminalized migrant populations in the south, while trade policies have promoted the exchange of capital at the expense of workers and the environment. Corporate interests place hazardous waste sites and polluting facilities disproportionately in low income communities of color.
SWU has developed strong organizing around all of these issues. SWU works with frontline communities in the U.S. and Mexico to advocate for migrant rights. They have organized against toxic military facilities, such as the Kelly Air Force Base, and successfully defeated other environmentally damaging industries. These are just a few of the challenges SWU has taken on throughout the years.
Just Transition work
Aside from battling toxic industries, members of SWU have also worked to establish roots in their communities by developing food security. After defeating the proposal for a fuel storage tank in a predominantly Black neighborhood, SWU launched the Roots of Change community garden. Another youth-led community garden is also being developed.
SWU is also working with the residents of the small town of Hondo for environmental justice. The Nuestra Voz (Our Voice) campaign pushes for a just transition by demanding the removal of toxic industrial communities, a revitalization of Hondo neighborhoods, good jobs that provide a just, sustainable living, and more. Nuestra Voz has already facilitated a new low-income housing project, achieved infrastructure improvements, and secured higher wages for city workers, among other victories.
Visit their website and follow them on social media to learn more about the great work the Southwest Workers Union is doing:
Coal holds a tight grip on the economy of eastern Kentucky. The industry has drained millions from communities, while polluting their natural resources and mistreating workers. In response to this extraction and abuse, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth formed to lead Kentucky in a transition away from an economy dominated by coal, anchoring the work of the Our Power Campaign throughout the Bluegrass State.
For more than 30 years, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth has been organizing in Kentucky to achieve voter rights, economic justice, and a transition away from the state’s extractive energy and economy. Since its formation, KFTC has grown from a small group of concerned citizens to a large organization that builds power through community organizing. Some of their key campaigns include:
Combating mountaintop removal in the Appalachia
Pushing for comprehensive tax reform that is fair and benefits all Kentuckians
Restoring the right to vote back to Kentuckians who have served time for a felony
Right now, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth are working to build a New Power in Kentucky - that will strengthen democracy, promote clean energy, and create a just economy. They are doing so through several “New Energy and Transition” projects that each work towards a more sustainable Kentucky.
Through building New Power, KFTC sees an opportunity to achieve a just transition in the Appalachia that will benefit workers and communities. Already, there are a variety of sectors working on different, grassroots solutions to move away from the current extractive economy. KFTC has been working with other organizations to document the successful, local projects that are benefiting communities. They are also exploring policies, such as federal funding for home weatherization projects, and the Kentucky Clean Air Opportunity Act, that could move Appalachia towards a just transition.
KFTC is organizing a campaign to around rural electrical co-ops in east Kentucky to promote clean, efficient energy that is more democratically governed. The campaign supports energy-saving projects like How$martKy, working with the Clean Energy Collaborative in increase efficient and renewable energy, and empowering members to step up for co-op reforms that will that increase transparency and democracy.
In 2009, KFTC cofounded the Kentucky Sustainable Energy Alliance promotes clean, sustainable and affordable energy solutions in Kentucky. The group consists of 53 members, most of which are businesses, all of whom are committed to transitioning away from extractive energy. Recently, they have supported the Clean Air Opportunity Act in the Kentucky legislature.