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The EPA vs. Pennsylvania’s minorities

With the Obama administration only two months away from releasing its “Clean Power Plan,” much debate has focused on the supposed benefits of cutting U.S. greenhouse gas emissions over the next 15 years. Lost amid the rhetoric is the economic hardship it will impose on working families — especially the 2.2 million blacks and Hispanics living in Pennsylvania.

That’s the finding from a new study commissioned by the National Black Chamber of Commerce. This regulation will leave minority communities with disproportionately fewer jobs, lower incomes and higher poverty than whites. Thus, while the administration calls its regulation a “justice issue” for minorities, its effects will amount to a severe injustice.

The regulation — enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency — will shutter much of our existing energy grid. New facilities will necessarily cost more and also rely on more expensive energy sources. Our study estimates this transformation will increase annual electricity costs by $565 billion in the coming years.

Ultimately, these higher costs will be passed on to families in the form of higher electricity bills and higher prices at every store. This is especially harmful to blacks and Hispanics.

Right now, blacks spend 50 percent more of their family incomes on utilities than whites, while Hispanics spend 10 percent more. This regulation will exacerbate these disparities, increasing the energy burden on both blacks and Hispanics by around 35 percent.

Then there’s the matter of lost income and lost jobs. Minorities typically have lower-paying jobs that are most vulnerable to regulatory cost increases. Ours are the first to be affected when business costs rise, such as the higher electricity bills this regulation will bring about.

Our study estimates cumulative job losses for blacks and Hispanics of 2.2 million and 3.8 million, respectively, over the next decade. We also estimate reduced annual household incomes for blacks and Hispanics by a respective $455 and $515 by 2035.

These three effects — higher energy bills, fewer jobs, lower incomes — will lead to greater hardships on families already struggling to get by. Our study estimates the regulation will increase black and Hispanic poverty rates by 23 and 26 percent, respectively.

We simply cannot afford this. While we’re working hard to pursue the American Dream and give our children the best shot at a better life, the EPA is pushing us even further down the ladder of opportunity.

State lawmakers must act to prevent this from happening. The regulation requires that unelected state environmental agencies draft implementation plans and submit them directly to the EPA. This sidesteps Pennsylvania’s elected representatives and eliminates accountability from voters.

There are two ways to fix this. Governors can issue executive orders prohibiting their environmental agencies from submitting plans to the EPA or our state legislators can pass legislation to the same effect. Either option ensures that elected officials have the final say over what happens to their constituents.

These are commonsense and simple solutions that could prevent the impending burdens facing millions of black and Hispanic families. Pennsylvania lawmakers should do everything in their power to prevent that from happening.

Harry C. Alford is the president and CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce.


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