A Green Justice Breakthrough in Massachusetts

September 30, 2009 -- Community Labor United

by By Soledad Boyd & Jeremy Shenk, Community Labor United Senior Organizers

The Massachusetts Green Justice Coalition won a victory for social justice and the environment on Tuesday July 28th when the state Energy Efficiency Advisory Council (EEAC) told the state’s utilities to add equity to their efficiency plans.

The EEAC must approve the utilities’ programs, which collect $210 million annually from Massachusetts ratepayers for building energy efficiency.  The Green Justice Coalition – 40 community, labor, environmental, and faith organizations statewide – brought 125 members to the July 14 EEAC meeting and urged the Council to insist upon several equity provisions.

  • Up-front financing for home energy retrofits, which will allow low and moderate income ratepayers to get deep savings on their energy bills.
  • Community-driven outreach and mobilization, which will reach economically marginalized neighborhoods where utility marketing is ineffective.
  • High-road jobs for community residents in energy efficiency retrofit work, providing family-supporting wages and benefits, strong health and safety measures, and a path to unionization.
  • A voice in the process for marginalized communities.

On July 28, the EEAC passed a resolution that partially approved the utilities’ proposals but required them to add:

  • Up-front financing, probably including on-bill cost recovery (you make the repairs now and pay them off over time on your utility bill).
  • Community mobilization as an outreach strategy.
  • High job standards and responsible contractor provisions.

All these will actually have to be implemented. In addition, we still need to win a voice in the process. We also need “bundling” – organizing entire blocks and neighborhoods into “green zones,” which will allow high-road contractors to bid on the work and create good jobs. The Green Justice Coalition will continue to bring proposals from its low-income constituencies into the EEAC’s deliberations and the utilities’ final plans.

Fully implementing the Green Justice Coalition’s proposals will help the utilities achieve 3% energy savings every year. While the state needs to reach this level of energy conservation, the utilities’ current programs save less than 1% a year. The proposals they have so far submitted to the state will save only 2% a year. The Green Justice proposals combine energy efficiency with racial, economic, and environmental justice – thus, “Green Justice.”

Now is the time to define what a “green job” is and who will be included in the new “green economy.” Working class communities and communities of color have a right to green resources and jobs and a right for these jobs to be good ones.  “Our communities won’t continue to settle for low wage jobs,” says Kalila Barnett, Executive Director of Roxbury based Alternatives for Community and Environment (ACE).  “The green economy needs to include, and can be led by us.”  When unions, community organizations in low income and communities of color, and environmental organizations come together to organize around what we have in common, we can truly be included in the green agenda and can advocate for ourselves to be included in the green economy. 

Community Labor United is the convening organization of the Green Justice Coalition. In early December, the Green Justice Coalition launched a statewide campaign to dramatically increase public and private investment in energy efficiency building retrofit measures. The Green Justice Coalition is part f a national movement that supports investment in energy efficiency building retrofits as the best, most immediate and cost effective opportunity to reduce carbon emissions, create good high-road jobs, and make our communities healthier and more sustainable. 

The Coalition came together because:

  • Greening is not only our responsibility, it is our right. Resources for greening must be accessible to all if we are to stabilize our climate.
  • A sustainable economy must be as equitable as it is green. We must repair economic inequalities by promoting family-sustaining green jobs, career pathways, and local and community-owned businesses.
  • Low income and communities of color should not bear the brunt of dirty industries. Lower income communities and communities of color that have been overburdened by the dirty fossil fuel economy must be at the forefront of the green wave.

The Green Justice Coalition will continue to expand statewide and to engage bodies like the Energy Efficiency Advisory Council to include equity goals along with their energy efficiency goals. The coalition also intends to focus on the green workforce development world to make sure green job trainings are high quality, centralized, well regulated, and linked to employment preferably through union apprenticeships. 

For an issue brief on the utilities’ proposals, a community survey documenting their shortcomings, and an extensive Green Justice agenda, see www.massclu.org

Contact Jeremy Shenk at Community Labor United with any questions at 617-723-2639 or Jeremy@massclu.org.