The Future of Energy 

Why President Obama’s Clean Power Plan matters.

It is an unfortunate fact that low-income and minority Americans are more likely to live near power plants. Communities living in such close proximity also bear the brunt of the negative health impacts caused by the pollution spewed from these power plants. Due to these historic disproportional impacts, it is imperative that we ensure that those who have been harmed by power plant pollution see the benefits of our nation's transition to a clean energy economy.

The Clean Power Plan, part of President Obama's Climate Action Plan, will be our nation's first comprehensive regulation aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants. Coal plants emit 77 percent of carbon dioxide emissions from our nation's power sector, as well as millions of tons of hazardous air pollutants that contribute to the formation of harmful ground-level ozone. Ground-level ozone and hazardous air pollutants are particularly dangerous for vulnerable populations, like children and the elderly.

Additionally, ground-level ozone increases smog, which contributes to respiratory illnesses such as asthma and can cause reduced lung function, particularly for adults who spend more time outdoors. Carbon dioxide emissions contribute to the ever-growing threat of climate change, which is predicted to impact historically disadvantaged communities more severely than others due to increases in extreme weather and more extreme heat. 

The Clean Power Plan will not only reduce carbon dioxide and the accompanying suite of harmful air pollutants emitted by coal plants, but it will also spur the development of clean energy resources such as solar and wind and increase energy efficiency.

By increasing renewable energy resources, we will create much-needed jobs in the clean energy sector. According to national business leaders, more than 18,000 jobs were announced in the clean energy sector in the third quarter of 2014 alone. A study released by the Natural Resources Defense Council found that if the Clean Power Plan is enacted, 274,000 jobs related to energy efficiency will be created over the next five years.

One important aspect of jobs in the clean energy sector is that many are accessible to those without advanced degrees and are generally higher-paying jobs compared to other jobs attainable to those with similar education backgrounds. The typical wage for someone employed in a clean energy industry — about $44,000 — is 13 percent higher than the typical wage earned by Americans. Perhaps most important, these jobs will be created at the local level and cannot be exported.

This clean energy revolution can and should benefit low-income communities by increasing the availability of higher-paying jobs and providing these communities access to low-cost, safe, and clean energy resources. Energy efficiency programs can reduce a family's energy bills in both the short- and long-term. Experience has shown that well-designed and adequately funded energy efficiency programs can trim utility bills and limit exposure to pollution by reducing reliance on traditional forms of energy such as coal plants.

Increased access to funding for energy efficiency improvements is especially important for limited-income households, which spend disproportionately higher amounts of their monthly income on electric bills and often live in homes or apartments lacking proper insulation with old, inefficient appliances.

Last month, Vanderbilt University Law School and Medical Center hosted a two-day forum on the Clean Power Plan. This forum allowed doctors, lawyers, scholars, business leaders, and policymakers an opportunity to discuss how we can work to protect our state and citizens from the threats of climate change while benefiting from the positive impacts of a transition to a clean energy economy.

For new jobs, energy savings, health benefits, and basic economic fairness, we should invest in clean energy resources in order to level the playing field for disadvantaged communities. I stand ready to work with the Tennessee Valley Authority, leaders in the energy industry, and my colleagues in Congress to make this commitment a reality.

We can and must do more to focus on the fair distribution of both the benefits and the burdens related to how we produce and consume energy.

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