Inaction on environmental justice has consequences

Lawmakers need to act on solar access legislation

THERE’S AN OLD SAYING in politics: elections have consequences. Well, inaction has consequences, too. And every day that Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez, Sen. Karen Spilka, and their Ways and Means colleagues fail to rein in pollution and recognize that environmental consciousness is growing is another day that our most vulnerable residents are left breathing dirty air.

Black, Latino, and Asian-American neighborhoods are more likely to be right next to polluting power plants. While residents in these communities don’t have clean air to breathe or clean water to drink, they also pay a greater share of their income for their utility bills. Low-income residents and renters often don’t even have the option to reap the benefits of renewable energy – like solar – because they don’t have a seat at the table.

What’s left morphs into long-term consequences for our communities. Poor children are more likely to develop asthma and people of color have higher rates of lung and heart disease, suggesting overexposure to pollutants. These are realities of people’s daily lives. Utility bills continue to stockpile – all because there’s no choice to switch to renewable, solar energy.

Right now, there is legislation on Beacon Hill that would address many of these challenges. The Solar Access Act (H.3396) would encourage developers to build solar energy in low-income communities and provide meaningful savings for low-income customers and renters. The Environmental Justice Bill (H.2913/S.426) would create policies to reduce pollution for all residents and make sure that everyone has a voice in the Commonwealth’s environmental future. Moving these bills swiftly through the Massachusetts House is a critical step in ensuring that all communities in our Commonwealth have the right to breathe freely and live sustainably. This could and needs to happen right now.

And the issue wins elections, too. Seventy-four percent of Americans say the country should do whatever it takes to protect the environment. When it comes to Democrats, that number hovers near 90 percent. In an election year, that math couldn’t be clearer.

Meet the Author

Khalida Smalls

Director of organizing, Community Labor United
For these reasons and more, solar access and environmental justice must be at the top of end of session priorities for Beacon Hill. Developers should have incentives to build solar projects in neighborhoods throughout the Commonwealth. Residents should be able to receive energy savings and have a voice in their neighborhoods. And all of us deserve safe, clean neighborhoods to live, play, and grow.

Khalida Smalls is the director of organizing for Community Labor United.