Communities of Color and Low-Income Communities.
Reducing our use of polluting fossil fuels and transitioning to clean, renewable energy are critical for communities of color – particularly Latino, African-American and Native American communities – that are much more likely to suffer the harmful effects of dirty energy pollution.
Nationally, almost 70 percent of African-Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant. In North Las Vegas, for example, 74 percent of people living around the fossil fuel-burning Las Vegas Generating Station are people of color. They are among the most at-risk from pollution in the state and nation, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. And members of the Moapa band of Paiutes who live near the recently-shuttered Reid Gardner coal-fired power plant suffered nearly 100 percent rates of asthma, and disproportionate rates of heart and lung, disease, cancer, and other serious illnesses.
Fossil-fuel pollution is associated with heart and lung disease, asthma, and other ailments, particularly among children, seniors and people with existing health issues. And people of color, including those in Nevada, are more likely to live near these pollution sources, such as power plants and highways.
According to EPA data, more than 11,000 people in and around West Las Vegas, a historically African-American community in which more than 90 percent of residents are people of color, are in the 80th percentile or higher for exposure to fossil-fuel pollutants. Around the Las Vegas Generating Station, a natural gas plant in North Las Vegas with a population of about 8,000, about 75 percent of the population is people of color, and again, they face similar high exposure rates to fossil fuel pollution. The exposure and EPA “environmental justice” rates are much better for people in wealthier parts of Southern Nevada, such as Summerlin, by a factor of 30, 40, 50 points or more.
One of the worst cases of environmental injustice in the United States is virtually on the doorstep of Las Vegas, at the Reid-Gardner Generating Station, a coal-fired power plant, about 15 miles northeast of the city. Since 1965, a community of Paiute Indians have lived next door to the plant and breathed its pollution. Residents have suffered extraordinarily high rates of lung and heart disease. Public pressure, led by the Moapa Band of the Paiute Indians, the Sierra Club and other allies, forced the closure of the plant, scheduled in 2017. The Moapa Paiutes have invested in a solar array and are selling clean energy onto the grid – enough solar energy to power about 100,000 homes.
Switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy would not only reduce pollution in communities of color, it would provide good jobs for Nevadans of every color and background. Those are just a few reasons communities of color consistently support clean energy.
As a movement that supports growing a strong renewable energy economy, that’s why we need to focus on policies that bring stakeholders from communities of color to the table. We must make space for them to participate and lead, so that we are advocating for inclusive solutions to the antiquated energy system.
Switching from fossil fuels to clean energy will mean health and economic benefits to communities of color and all Nevadans.