Racial cleavages are strikingly clear as COVID-19 has underscored our nation’s economic disparities and racial injustices. While the nation takes to the streets in protest of the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arubury, and tragically too many others— stimulus spending has conspicuously failed to reflect national sentiment. At least $113 million in Congressional stimulus taxpayer-backed loans meant for small businesses have gone to the fossil fuel industry. As 28.76 percent of firms are owned by minorities in California, minorities have greatly suffered at the hands of fossil fuel corporate greed; too many have been forced to close while oil companies have been granted more land to drill on by the federal government with waived fees. This is unconscionable.
Elected Officials to Protect California (EOPCA) implores Governor Newsom to enact a clean energy stimulus package for California. EOPCA posits that any effective stimulus strategy must subsidize clean energy as a vehicle for righting the wrongs of environmental injustice, thereby making the state healthier for everyone.
“We need to rid ourselves of chokehold fossil fuel mega corporations have on our economy and transition to a safer, more equitable California with 100 percent clean, renewable energy. We are the fifth largest economy in the world, we have the power to do this. We are asking Governor Newsom if he has the political will to follow through with this clean energy stimulus,” said Meghan Sahli-Wells Elected Officials to Protect California Co-Chair, former Culver City Mayor, and current council member.
California has the unique opportunity to pre-empt the reaffirmation of fossil fuels as an economic fixture which endangers our health. Since lifting lockdowns, China has seen the fossil fuel industry rebound completely, as it invests in new coal infrastructure. However, by subsidizing clean energy rather than fossil fuel companies, California can permanently cut back on carbon emissions and pollution. In doing so, we could ensure a more just, healthy future for the 2.1 million Californians who live next to an oil or gas well by protecting them from air pollutants. Environmental justice would be meaningfully enhanced by an increased reliance on clean energy. It is time to put the lives and livelihoods of all Californians first.
“Governor Newsom recently spoke forcefully about the need to fight systemic racism in California. It is time for him to turn those words into action. Over 5 million Californians live less than a mile from an active oil well and many suffer from chronic asthma, lung disease, and cancer. More than 12,000 Californians die from the oil industry’s air pollution annually. Enough is enough. This is no way to power our society. We must value life over corporate gains. The public’s health and safety should be what guides political decisions, not the oil industry’s bottom line,” said Elected Officials to Protect California Steering Committee Member and San Luis Obispo Mayor Heidi Harmon.
Out of the 5.4 million Californians who live near oil and gas wells in California 3.7 million, or 69 percent are people of color, exposing them to toxins which can have catastrophic effects on human health. Coronavirus has ravaged minority populations due to systemic environmental injustice; California’s stimulus spending must aim to rectify these environmental justice violations.
While the Coronavirus appears indiscriminate, it has actually unveiled systemic environmental racism. Environmental injustice has been increasingly apparent, as black Americans are dying from Coronavirus at nearly twice the rate of their white counterparts in California. Environmental injustice can be directly linked to this egregious death rate, as Blacks and Hispanics suffer 56-63 percent more air pollution than can be attributed to their consumption patterns. As a result, minorities suffer chronic respiratory and cardiopulmonary conditions at staggering rates, putting them at significant risk for coronavirus infection. Indeed, a Harvard study finds that long term exposure to PM 2.5, a potent aerosol pollutant, can lead to an eight percent increase in probability for coronavirus infection.
Devastatingly, increased infection has correlated with increased mortality. Accelerated aging caused by ambient stressors, including toxins, lack of sleep and racial discrimination, make African Americans more vulnerable. Essentially, environmental stressors put minorities at a greater risk for infection and mortality. This is absolutely unacceptable.
In addition to suffering devastating loss of life, minorities disproportionately bear the economic burden of the pandemic. Despite only comprising 6.5 percent of California’s population, African Americans filed 23 percent of all unemployment claims in California, according to a study by the California Policy Lab. Comparatively, white people constitute 71.9 percent of the population, but only filed 19 percent of unemployment claims. To contextualize, these numbers amount to one in four African-Americans having filed for unemployment in California. Black residents are bearing the brunt of the pandemic, as they suffer higher mortality rates and higher unemployment rates. Thus, it is clear that environmental justice and economic issues are inextricably linked, and must be addressed by the state of California.
Immediate action is the only option. Stimulus spending should serve those communities who bear the brunt of Coronavirus externalities. California must respond swiftly to rectify the harms exacted by Coronavirus and environmental injustice on minority communities. Record low interest rates make the current moment propitious for environmental action, as the government has the rare opportunity to borrow inexpensively with bonds.
“We can turn this pandemic tragedy around by transitioning our economy to run on 100 percent clean, renewable energy, thereby creating hundreds of thousands of jobs with training for people whose jobs won’t be coming back,” said Elected Officials to Protect California Steering Committee Member and San Luis Obispo Mayor Heidi Harmon. “We can’t afford to miss this opportunity.”
Ultimately, California would advance public health by investing in clean energy, as it eradicates the air pollution which has caused minorities to suffer disproportionately from COVID-19. Environmental health as a whole benefits, as explained by a representative from the International Renewable Energy Agency: “15 percent increase in welfare, mainly through health benefits from reduced air pollution.” By delegating funds to clean energy, California would actively pursue environmental justice and welfare by improving health outcomes.
The oil and gas industry claimed $1.9 billion in tax credit relief from a federal stimulus package. This tax break for mega companies completely failed to put people over profit. Although African Americans suffer disproportionately from fossil fuel profiteering, they only ever see a microscopic piece of these profits. African Americans hold only 1.1 percent of energy-related jobs and earn only .01 percent of the revenue from fossil fuel industries.
The oil industry was in turmoil even before the pandemic. In 2020, oil prices precariously hovered near $70 a barrel, but as tanks neared capacity, oil plunged below $25/barrel. The price of U.S. oil futures even briefly sank below zero, garnering wide speculation that oil had lost its place in the market long before COVID-19 struck. Where fossil fuel energy sources have failed us, green energy sources are consistent, clean, reliable, and positioned to put California first.
“The failing fossil fuel industry is driving catastrophic climate change, and continues to ask for a bailout with our public money,” said Co-Chair of Elected Officials to Protect California, former Culver City Mayor, and current council member Meghan Sahli-Wells. “It’s time to prioritize the health and wellbeing of all Californians.”
Where oil companies have failed, renewable energy is poised to take over for a cleaner, more just world. For every million dollars invested, alternative energy sources create five more jobs than big oil and gas. In fact, renewable energy is projected to produce 29 million new jobs, in addition to boosting global GDP. As black residents are more affected by Coronavirus- induced unemployment in California, investing in renewable energy could provide tremendous financial relief for suffering families by providing them with training and jobs.
Coronavirus has highlighted the urgency behind solving issues of environmental injustice, and has ironically has provided California with the unique opportunity to resolve these longstanding infringements by enacting comprehensive climate stimulus programs.
Governor Newsom must take action now.
The mission of EOPA: To create a safe, prosperous, and healthy planet, we empower leadership from elected officials and civic leaders to protect our environment, and fight the climate crisis. As current and former elected officials who care deeply about protecting our planet and people from the dangers of climate change, EOPA educates through value-based storytelling, trains lawmakers, and connects elected officials to inspire strong environmental policy. Lawmakers who are veterans and elected officials lead our mission.
July 13, 2020
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Alexander Cornell du Houx, President of Elected Officials to Protect California Cell: 207.319.4511