CLIMATE AND ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE
Climate Justice is a term that reframes the conversation regarding climate change from a purely environmental and technical issue to one that is a human rights, ethical, and political issue and recognizes that the communities – people of color, the very young and very old, the poor, and women – that are most adversely impacted by climate change are those who are least responsible for it. Likewise, Environmental Justice, which is a subset of Climate Justice, addresses the fact that those same at-risk populations or “front line communities” tend to live closest to and be the most adversely impacted by industrial pollution resulting from extractive, carbon-producing industries. Consequently, Steps Coalition is committed to working with likeminded nongovernmental, faith-based, and civic organizations and the government to catalyze a just transition to a carbon neutral economy on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and throughout the United States, and we see investment in Community Solar as one means to help achieve a carbon neutral economy here.
What is Community Solar and why is it important? Community Solar is a model of solar ownership that enables households to benefit from the carbon-neutral, energy generating, and cost benefits of photovoltaic solar panels despite the prohibitive costs or physical limitations of installing solar panels directly on their home. It is estimated that the average home solar panel installation can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000 depending upon the size and energy requirements of the home; a cost that is beyond the reach of most low-moderate-income (LMI) families. Similarly, many LMI families cannot take advantage of the solar revolution because they live in multi-family dwellings that do not permit the installation of solar panels. Community Solar makes solar energy accessible to these households by centralizing the physical location of the solar panels on a solar farm in close proximity to the community that households can then benefit from via fractional ownership or income-based subscriptions, and they can realize the cost savings associated with the reduced cost of solar energy directly on their electric bill via a process called “Virtual Net Metering (VNEM).
Steps Coalition is working in collaboration with the Sierra Club Mississippi Chapter and the Gulf Coast Community Foundation to construct a 1.5 megawatt community solar farm that is projected to produce enough electricity for up to 500 LMI households within Mississippi Power’s service area on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The project is being funded by a $3.0 million donor advised fund that is managed by the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, and Steps and the Sierra Club are the fund advisors.
In addition to the cost savings benefits that will likely accrue to program subscribers, the project will include a workforce development program that will train local residents in solar farm construction, solar panel installation, and solar farm operation and maintenance.
What is GS4GND and why is it important? In 2019, the Steps Coalition signed on with the Gulf Coast Center for Law and Policy and a number of other nongovernmental organizations across the Gulf South (Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida) to create a movement called the “Gulf South for a Green New Deal.” That movement then created a Gulf South specific policy platform by the same name that is based on the United States House of Representatives’ Nonbinding Resolution Recognizing the Duty of the Federal Government to Create a Green New Deal (H.RES.109), but is specific to the needs of the Gulf states with regard to a just transition to carbon neutral industries and investment in a climate resilient infrastructure. The first iteration of the policy platform, which is a living document, was completed in the fourth quarter of 2019, and the collaborative is now working on state, county, and municipal specific resolutions that will be presented to applicable government leaders before the end of 2020. The policy platform and resolutions are important because the Gulf South disproportionately experiences the negative impacts of climate change via sea level rise, unprecedented weather events, and its proximity to carbon producing extractive industries like oil and natural gas.
Since its inception, GS4GND has garnered a national reputation for continuing to champion H.RES.109 with programs such as “The Road to a Green New Deal” which, in collaboration with the Sunrise Movement, launched the program at the Mahalia Jackson Theater in New Orleans (over 800 people attended), BP10 which commemorated the 10th anniversary of the BP Deep Water Horizon Oil Spill of 2010 (over 300 virtual attendees), Earth Day 2020 (over 100 virtual attendees), and most recently Katrina15 which commemorated 15 years of recovery following Hurricane Katrina (over 300 virtual attendees). This movement is not only important because of the just transition that it is calling for in the Gulf South, but because it has created a safe forum to develop leadership for today and tomorrow via a multicultural, multigenerational, gender inclusive platform where all who share the vision of a Green New Deal are welcome. Steps Coalition anticipates continuing to support the work of this collaborative via program development, technical assistance, and direct investment for the foreseeable future.