Rosenthal, A., Leone, B., Kenner, A., Adams, J., Morgan, S. (2021, October). "Energy in COVID-19: October 2021 Media Brief." Energy in COVID-19. The Energy Vulnerability Project. Platform for Experimental and Collaborative Ethnography. Retrieved from The Energy Rights Project
A primary challenge for energy justice work is achieving an equitable energy transition while also acknowledging and remediating the health, social, and economic burdens on historically marginalized communities. These tensions shouldn’t be seen as trade-offs, but rather obstacles that we must focus our efforts on in order to work towards energy justice.
In previous media briefs, we discussed how green energy corporations may sometimes trample on marginalized communities in the name of transitioning away from fossil fuels and by doing so, they are perceived as acting in the greater good. One example of this can be seen in Northern Nevada, where Lithium Americas is planning to build a 1,000 acre lithium mine on land considered sacred to the Paiute and Shoshone people (Golden 2021). This sacred land is a burial ground dedicated to those that were slaughtered by US settlers in the late 1800s; their lives are honored annually at the site. “We’re just protecting our elders, their grandparents, the integrity of the things that they had,” said McKinney, 32, a member of the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes. “There was life back there, there was death back there (Golden 2021).
There are no overarching legal protections for sacred indiginous land, meaning that tribes are faced with legal challenges when trying to protect their land. In September, an attempt to temporarily pause an archeology survey of the site was denied. The mining project was approved by the Trump administration in January with the goal of supplying lithium to electric car battery manufacturers. Lithium Americas say this mine could meet the majority of demand and contribute significantly towards phasing out combustible engine vehicles. But other cases show that we can protect Indigoneous land rather than reproduce harm; this can be seen with the cancelling of the Keystone XL pipeline. We are capable of transitioning away from fossil fuels in a way that does not disturb Indigoneous sacred land. By bringing attention to issues like this, we hope to highlight Indigeonus voices and work towards a solution led by marginalized communities.
The next article discusses why billionaires are worried about green investing amidst the supply chain shortages brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. Steve Schwarzman, Blackstone’s billionaire co-founder, warned that oil prices are far too high and that current trends indicate a potential for unrest around the world as companies move towards investing in green energy projects. He stated that it is nearly impossible to try and raise money to drill for oil, and a JPMorgan analyst wrote this year that as much as $600 billion must be invested in oil by 2030 to meet continued demand (Sorkin et al. 2021). Larry Fink of BlackRock, one of the biggest proponents of Wall Street adopting E.S.G. is worried about going too far with it, stating that many think we can simply flip a switch to go from a brown world to a green one yet that is not possible. Scwarzman states that governments need to intervene on behalf of oil and fossil fuel companies so they can continue to meet demand or we will see “many unhappy people.”
This article ignores the impacts that continued investment in oil and fossil fuels would have on the lives of the vast majority of people, especially those living in areas most impacted by climate change. We are already seeing extreme weather events all across the world, and almost every climate report states that we need to make significant changes to our way of life in order to only feel some of the most severe effects of climate change. Scwarzman fails to consider how many “unhappy” people there will be when climate change destroys entire communities and creates a refugee crisis unlike anything we have seen before. Fink calls a fast transition impossible, yet gives no reason why. The impacts of oil and gas wells is explored further in the next article.
There are currently 3.2 million abandoned gas and oil wells across the United States, all of which pose a great environmental and health risk due to methane leaks and groundwater contamination. The reason for these well’s decrepit state can be attributed to deficient energy infrastructure policies in states across the U.S. that set bonds for remediating wells far too low. These low bond prices were made by state governments who wanted to entice less wealthy energy companies to build infrastructure on their land. The bond price was far lower than the cost it would take to plug these wells, forcing the government to pay the estimated $2.6 million it would cost to plug these wells, something the Biden administration plans to tackle in its Build Back Better Agenda. The bill includes $4.7 billion for orphaned well cleanup on state, private, federal, and tribal lands. Orphaned wells are those where no known operator can be held responsible for cleaning up the site. As the next article will elaborate on, this bill is much needed as state governments can only do so much in the face of a threat the size of climate change (Oldham 2021).
Hurricane Ida and Isaias swept through Philadelphia in the last few months, forcing many city residents out of their homes. These catastrophic events have only become more common and the scientific consensus is that man-made climate change is to blame. Things will only continue to get worse unless bold action is taken to reduce our carbon emissions. Katherine Gilmore of the Inquirer argues that the City of Philadelphia can only do so much, and federal support is required to take on the issue of climate change. Gilmore lauds what the City has done on its own, such as the nationally recognized Green City Clean Waters initiative to reduce the burden on our aging sewer system (Gilmore 2021). Still, Gilmore argues that what is needed is beyond the scope of even a major city. She then discusses the Build Back Better plan in the latter half of the article, calling it a bold step in the right direction. It would put people to work creating a 21st century electrical grid, installing solar panels and wind farms, as well as addressing things such as lead paint and old pipes that plague many American cities. It is understandable to promote the Build Back Better agenda, and it will certainly help millions of Americans, but as we will discuss in the next section, it received many cuts from conservative Democrats that significantly reduce its scope and impact. Energy justice advocates are in a peculiar position right now with the Build Back Better plan. The investments it makes in finally removing lead from our water supplies is long overdue, and it does contain large investments in clean energy, but falls short in many aspects due to the price decrease from $3 trillion to $1.7 trillion.
Golden, Hallie. 2021. “Indigenous Tribes Tried to Block a Car Battery Mine. But the Courts Stood in the Way.” The Guardian, October 15, 2021, sec. Environment. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/oct/15/indigenous-tribes-block-car-battery-mine-courts.
Sorkin, Andrew Ross, Sarah Kessler, Stephen Gandel, Michael J. de la Merced, Lauren Hirsch, and Ephrat Livni. 2021. “Why This Billionaire Is Worried About Green Investing.” The New York Times, October 27, 2021, sec. Business. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/27/business/dealbook/schwarzman-energy-crunch.html.
Jennifer Oldham. 2021. “Abandoned Oil and Gas Sites Are Leaking Methane Across the Country.” Sierra Club. October 4, 2021. https://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/abandoned-oil-and-gas-sites-are-leaking-methane-across-country.
Gilmore, Katherine. 2021. “Philadelphia Can’t Curb the Climate Crisis without Federal Support | Opinion.” Https://Www.Inquirer.Com. October 25, 2021. https://www.inquirer.com/opinion/commentary/build-back-better-biden-climate-philadelphia-20211005.html.
This month’s media brief contains three themes: energy justice challenges, climate projects, and rising energy costs. The first examines challenges to energy justice, which is defined as an equitable transition towards renewable energy while acknowledging and aiding marginalized groups that have been impacted by energy policies. The next theme examines projects different sectors are partaking in to try and mitigate climate change. The last theme discusses rising costs of energy, mostly brought about by the supply chain shortages.
This theme explores the many different projects different organizations are partaking in to combat climate change. This includes federal governments, states, corporations, and schools. Seeing how vastly different structures perceive climate change and work towards solutions is a focus in this section. By doing so, we can see what these structures hope to achieve during an energy transition.
The first article in this section discusses Biden’s Build Back Better framework, a $1.7 trillion spending package which contains funding for social programs, climate initiatives, tax increases on large corporations, and much more (The White House 2021). The bill was originally $3 trillion but two conservative Democrats, Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema negotiated Biden down to $1.7 trillion resulting in some major cuts to the legislation. This included removing free college, Medicaid expansion, and paid family leave, which were all popular with the American people. The climate change proposal received a $50 million cut, going from $600 million to $550 million. Manchin was able to remove the original plan to fine electric utility companies that do not move to clean energy sources from fossil fuels. Now, $320 billion is available to companies in the form of expanded clean energy tax credits. Biden states the plan will, “help people do things like weatherize their homes so they use less energy, install solar panels and develop clean energy products, help businesses produce more clean energy” (Gregorian 2021). Biden’s mention of weatherization before anything else is fascinating. Included in the package is a rebate program, which Biden hopes will encourage middle and lower class American families to transition to renewable energies. As our survey findings have indicated, cost is a huge factor keeping lower income Americans from weatherizing their home and transitioning to renewables (though there are other factors for the latter). The majority of our Philadelphia respondents reported that their windows were drafty and many have experienced a broken heater before. Interestingly, the only two programs directly mentioned on the whitehouse.gov page are a solar panel rebate program (which aims to cut the cost of solar panel installation by 30%) and an electric car rebate (The White House 2021).
The next article focuses on new climate change focused features Google is adding to their many products and services. These features include new eco-friendly routes on Google Maps, Google Flights featuring and prioritizing sustainable trips, surfacing the most energy efficient (though still within a reasonable price range) appliances, and a new “Nest Renew” program for their Nest thermostats (Freedman 2021). Nest Renew offsets heating and cooling to times where the grid is cleaner or less expensive. A paid $10 a month premium service adds a carbon offset feature where Google will compensate for the carbon emissions produced by their thermostat (Freedman 2021). These features, while helpful, seem to focus on the individualized, neoliberal notion of climate change: the idea that climate change is equally caused by all of us and our individual day to day actions are the most important contributors. Google making a business model out of mitigating the pollution caused by their products shows how even climate change can be commodified. This might help in some regards in reducing carbon emissions, but it almost certainly will not be significant.
The next article discusses Philadelphia’s first Green Bank. Due to the many trees and nature restoration projects in higher income areas, there can be a 22-degree temperature difference between high income and low income parts of the city. The Philadelphia Green Capital Corp. (PGCC) is an affiliate of the Philadelphia Energy Authority that is set to launch a Green Bank, defined in the article as nonprofits that focus specifically on clean energy financing (Butler 2021) by getting groups in contact with banks. The PGCC has a goal of creating $250 million in investments for clean energy projects in the city. Major Jim Kenney's goal for Philadelphia is to be carbon neutral by 2050. The PGCC will be meeting with community organizations to help residents understand its mission as well as advocate for Solarize Philly, the city’s Solar Panel initiative. PGCC offers pre-development loans for the design of energy projects at multifamily and nonprofit properties and it also offers term loans for energy improvements to affordable housing buildings and nonprofits (Butler 2021). Details on these loans were not present in the article, I am curious to see what kinds of loans these are. For example, if these are PACE loans, then the impacts PGCC will have could largely be negative. This Green Bank will be something our team will be paying attention to. The actual impacts it has on carbon emissions will depend on the projects it funds and the types of loans it gives out.
The final article of this section looks at a Green Jobs Training program at Frankford High School. “The Philadelphia Energy Authority, in partnership with PECO and the School District of Philadelphia, unveiled a new Solar Training Lab at Frankford High School on Friday as part of a widespread initiative to train young people for careers in solar and clean energy (Mancini 2021). The lab will contain a three year vocational program which is tailored towards training students in green energy jobs. Training in solar and battery installation, sales, design, weatherization and construction basics are provided as part of the program. The new lab was funded by PECO and grants from the U.S. Department of Energy (Mancini 2021). The Knights Green Jobs Training Center at the ECA provides training and certification to impoverished areas in Philadelphia and I would be interested in seeing how these programs compare to one another. Morgan, the researcher who contributed the article wrote the following in her critical commentary, “I'm wondering if this program has any educational component that trains students for job hunting, such as interview prep and resume building. I think it would be interesting if these student training programs had components that created space for students to learn about the history of energy, imagine just energy futures, and what their role in that future could look like. This would include education on energy transitions and environmental justice, and other overlapping issues of social justice.”
“President Biden Announces the Build Back Better Framework.” 2021. The White House. October 28, 2021. https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/10/28/president-biden-announces-the-build-back-better-framework/.
Freedman, Andrew. n.d. “Your Google Map Just Got Greener.” Axios. Accessed November 29, 2021. https://www.axios.com/google-maps-flight-search-gets-greener-34f6fd74-ca5f-406d-8cb0-92ee70a4780a.html.
Butler, Micheal. 2021. “Philly’s First ‘green Bank’ Will Connect Clean Energy Projects to Capital.” Generocity Philly. October 11, 2021. https://generocity.org/philly/2021/10/11/phillys-first-green-bank-will-connect-clean-energy-projects-to-capital/.
Mancini, Maggie. 2021. “Growing Number of Philadelphia Households Have High-Speed Internet, City Survey Finds.” PhillyVoice. October 20, 2021. https://www.phillyvoice.com/philadelphia-high-speed-internet-access-resident-survey/.
This section focuses on increased energy costs as well as access to energy services. The first article in this section focuses on supply chain shortages and how they are likely going to lead to increased energy costs. The U.S. Energy Information Administration stated that many people heating their homes with natural gas and other types of energy could see increased costs this winter. Rodney Cleek of LGW expects this cost increase to be about $20 this winter for an average family using natural gas, roughly 20%-30% (Arthur 2021). Experts urge residents to weatherize their homes now if they want to save the most amount of money this season. As our findings in our survey have shown, many are already struggling to pay utility bills due to the pandemic, and energy shortages leading to increased gas bills will only serve to exacerbate this issue. So far, no utility companies nor assistance programs have updated their assistance to account for this 20%-30% increase, meaning it’s possible that there are many receiving assistance that may still need further assistance. Gas bills are not the only bills Philadelphia residents can expect to pay more for, as our next article will elucidate.
The Philadelphia Water Department has announced that they are increasing rates by $17.9% or roughly $155 a month for customers getting both water and sewer services. This increase was originally going to be higher, though the Philadelphia finance department readjusted the amount that the PWD would contribute to the city’s pension plan by $25 million, allowing them to reduce the rate increase (Maykuth 2021). The increase next year came with a caveat that the increase has the potential to go down if the city receives more pandemic relief or if the department’s reserves exceed certain levels. Fortunately, this rate increase also comes with an increase to the amount of assistance money that the Tiered Assistance Program (TAP) can pay out to customers (Maykuth 2021). This program also includes debt forgiveness for customers that keep up with their payments on a consistent basis. The article does not include what increased assistance those enrolled in the program will see, so our team should pay special attention to TAP in the coming months. Either way, it is encouraging to see what the city is focusing on helping vulnerable populations cope with in light of the rate increase, but the extent to which this assistance achieves that goal remains to be seen.
On the subject of increased aid, Pennsylvania’s Department of Human Services has announced that eligible families can receive up to $1,500 in LIHEAP grants for their heating bill during the 2021-2022 winter season (Conant 2021). These grants can range from $500 to $1,500 and do not have to be repaid. With one-third of Philadelphia residents in poverty, and the average heating bill for a winter season being about $1,1000 these grants can help as many as 138,000 Philadelphians (Conant 2021). Despite this, last year only 82,000 customers applied for the program, leaving a significant gap in those eligible but not applying. This backs up our survey findings, with more than 90% of winter respondents having at least heard of LIHEAP, but not nearly as many having enrolled. This article speaks to the first one in this section, directly mentioning that energy costs could be up to 30% more expensive this season due to supply chain shortages. The Philadelphia City Council is attempting to inform the public about the program before these more expensive bills reach customers’ mailboxes by a social media campaign (Conant 2021).
The final article of this section discusses a survey conducted by Wilco Electronic Systems in partnership with the city of Philadelphia. This survey aimed to find the extent to which Philadelphia residents had access to the internet. Access to high speed internet jumped 14% in 2020, going from 70% in 2019 to 84% in 2021. 91% of families with school-aged children have high-speed internet. (Mancini 2021) What they also found was that only 9% of residents used discounted internet service providers like PHLconnectED or Comcast Internet Essentials and another 17% had their internet discounted in some way (Mancini 2021). Fifty-six percent of those without high speed internet cited cost as their reason why, making affordability the largest barrier to high speed internet (Mancini 2021). This indicates that either the assistance programs available are largely unknown to the community or that they are not meeting the demand. Unfortunately, when asking about the internet at home during our surveys, we did not inquire about programs like PHLconnectED. The survey itself is extensive and detailed and referencing it will be a requirement for any academic study on internet security in Philadelphia.
Mancini, Maggie. “Growing Number of Philadelphia Households Have High-Speed Internet, City Survey Finds.” PhillyVoice, October 20, 2021. https://www.phillyvoice.com/philadelphia-high-speed-internet-access-resident-survey/.
Conant, Erica. “Eligible families can now apply for up to $1,500 in aid to pay for heating bills.” Whyy. October 19, 2021. https://whyy.org/articles/eligible-pgw-customers-can-now-apply-for-up-to...
Maykuth, Andrew. “Philadelphia water bills will go up Wednesday.Here’s why, and how it could have been worse.” The Philadelphia Inquirer. August 31, 2021. https://www.inquirer.com/business/philadelphia-water-rate-increase-goes-...
Arthur, S. (2021, Oct 26). "Supply chain issues may cause energy prices to soar." Retrieved from https://www.wreg.com/news/local/supply-chain-issues-causing-energy-price...