Environmental justice advocates want to promote public health
By David Pendered
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated with a response from Georgia Power.
Advocates of environmental justice met Tuesday to discuss their interest in promoting public health at the local, state and national levels, and obtaining funding to promote the campaigns.
One potential effort that garnered support is mounting an opposition to any efforts by utility companies to disconnect fuel used to heat homes of Georgians who don’t pay their utility bill.
Frank Bove, president of ECO-Action, said fuel cut-offs are the next major issue.
“What’s going to happen is an economic downturn caused by the pandemic, with people losing their homes, and energy bills they can’t afford, and Georgia Power and the gas company will be cutting people off,” Bove said.
A related point is the need for money to pay for rehabilitating and weatherizing residences, to prevent heat loss and lower energy costs, Bove said.
Georgia Power provided this response Wednesday:
- “Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Georgia Power has recognized the extraordinary burden our customers have faced due to impacts from the coronavirus, and we continue to work to help all customers maintain service. As the suspension of disconnections was extended, ultimately covering four months this year, we worked with the Georgia Public Service Commission to develop special payment options to help customers with past due account balances and, most importantly, help them maintain service.
- “We also continue to partner with nonprofit, community and faith-based organizations to offer assistance programs to those in need, as well as ongoing energy efficiency programs, tips and resources to help customers save energy and money.”
The advocates said Tuesday their immediate approach is to present the concern about cutoffs to the two candidates in the run-off for a seat on the state utility regulator, the Public Service Commission, and the four candidates seeking two U.S. Senate seats.
Another important matter is the enforcement of environmental laws in all communities, regardless of their racial or economic composition, according to Yomi Noibi, executive director of ECO-Action.
“Environmental justice is meaningful treatment of planning, implementation and enforcement of environmental law policies,” Noibi said. “We don’t have equitable enforcement of these laws. As we reflect on an actionable plan, I want us to remember environmental justice enforcement is the weakest leak about environmental justice, and putting everything in the context of climate change. Climate change is overriding everything.”
The conversation unfolded during a 90-minute virtual meeting of the planning subcommittee of the Georgia Grassroots Environmental Network. GGEN is supported by Environmental Community Action, Inc. ECO-Action was established in 1989 and has assisted more than 140 community groups, according to a report on its website.
In her role as moderator, Lindsay Harper sought to corral a myriad of ideas presented by about nine participants. Harper serves as Arm in Arm national core support team coordinator with the U.S. Climate Action Network:
- “What is it we can achieve? What is it we are trying to achieve? That’s a good place to start. Educating folks at what levels? Are we talking schools, churches, elected officials?
- “Let’s take it for the first quarter [of 2021]. What can we achieve … and where are we going with that? What is happening in the world we can align ourselves with that will allow our goals to be actionable?”
Bill Eisenhauer, of the Metro Atlanta Urban Watershed Institute, said the floating of many ideas is the nature of the work. Then he voiced support for Bove’s call for a campaign against utility cut-offs of folks who don’t pay their utility bills:
- “We could do a million little things. That’s the way it works in this whole field….
- “Poor people aren’t going to be able to pay their gas bills this winter. Is there some way we could simply go to those folks who are running for PSC and Senate and ask how it will be possible to deal with this very dramatic and crucial issue? It could be a mess.”
Raising money for the efforts will be easier once the group decides on its agenda, according to Lynne Young, a staffer with ECO-Action:
- “Yomi and I had an opportunity for funding for this organization, but we weren’t clear what we were asking for the money to do…. I’m getting a better understanding about what we are trying to do. I’ve seen some funding opportunities that are relevant to this group, but it’s. ‘What are you actually going to do with this money?’”