Green Justice Coalition Victory! $1.4 Billion Energy Efficiency Plan Will Revive Working-Class Neighborhoods

December 18, 2009 -- Community Labor United

 On October 27, 2009 Massachusetts adopted a $1.4 billion plan that will

  •  cut greenhouse gas emissions; 
  • create high-quality jobs in the state's highest-unemployment communities;
  • and provide up-front financing so low-to moderate-income residents can save money and do deep retrofits on their homes.

This is a victory for CLU's Green Justice Coalition, a community-labor-environmental alliance that is less than a year old. Here's how we won.

Take a Climate Crisis... 2008 legislation commits Massachusetts to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions 20% by 2020. State officials know they need to start with energy efficiency, where proven technology and quick savings can buy time for slower, more expensive steps. However, the state's new laws leave energy efficiency programs in the hands of utility companies, which have been administering them for the past 32 years. While Massachusetts' federally subsidized low-income weatherization programs are very well run, other program results have been underwhelming. Energy efficiency savings are under 1% a year and are actually canceled out by growth in electrical demand. This means the state's fossil fuel use is rising, not falling. The state Energy Efficiency Advisory Council (EEAC) could never meet its climate goals, let alone create good green jobs or retrofit entire low-income communities. They were in the Business As Usual box. Their path out came from an unexpected source: the most marginalized communities in the state.

Add an Economic and Environmental Justice Crisis... In December 2008, labor unions and community-based organizations joined forces with environmental and faith groups to form the Green Justice Coalition. We told the EEAC: you can meet your climate change goals and more if you...

  • Find up-front financing so residents can pay for home efficiency work;
  • Pay community-based organizations that residents know and trust to do energy efficiency outreach in their neighborhoods; and
  • Sign up hundreds of residents for home retrofits and "bundle" those together into a single contract...
  • So well-paid, well-trained workers can do the work through a high-road contractor.

...And You Get the Green Justice Solution. All these ideas are being implemented by our sister organizations across the country, and we owe them an enormous debt for blazing the trail. In Massachusetts, we have combined them into a single model that unites the power of communities and unions. The state's utility companies have written Environmental Justice Communities into their three-year plans, which they will start implementing in January 2010. Finally, the EEAC has earmarked $1.4 billion in ratepayer fees and other funds to multiply the utilities' energy efficiency savings. Under the new plans, the utilities will work with the Green Justice Coalition and:

  1. Pay for "Community Mobilization Initiatives" - intensive, door-to-door outreach campaigns that sign up hundreds of low-to-moderate-income residents for high-quality home retrofits.
  2. Find up-front financing so residents can afford "deep" retrofits, save more money and energy.
  3. Make sure retrofit contractors hire community residents for "good green jobs" with livable wages, benefits, proper job classification, and training for lifelong careers.

In its next meeting the EEAC will discuss plans for an Equity Committee where working class and of-color communities can make sure these new jobs and services get delivered. The plan calls for several pilot programs that the Green Justice Coalition is now negotiating with the state's two largest utility companies, NSTAR and National Grid. The pilots will use Green Justice's key innovation, namely combining community mobilization with "bundling." Bundling will create new jobs and start to repair the state's broken labor market, which provides ever fewer blue-collar jobs. Lessons learned from the initial pilots will be plowed into more new pilots, which the utility plan calls for.

The Green Justice agreement is a triple win. It can roll back the economic crisis, the opportunity crisis, and the climate crisis. The Green Justice Solution will significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions and help the state meet its greenhouse gas reduction goals, especially in marginalized communities with the draftiest, oldest, and least energy-efficient homes.

A Testament to Base-Building. Without grassroots intervention, the green economy would pass us by. Energy efficiency programs would reach few people in our communities. Those they did reach couldn't afford the up-front costs. And they certainly wouldn't get hired to do the retrofit work. The Green Justice Coalition changed this story by mobilizing coalition members' base for EEAC hearings, surveying lower-income neighborhoods, and gathering thousands of cards supporting our key demands. We visited all the EEAC members and got the most sympathetic to carry our demands into backroom negotiations. We met with utility executives and showed them how we could multiply their efficiency work. Now we're going to implement our pilots and make sure they expand to the entire state.