Dion Mensah, June 8, 2022
Climate change is not a distant phenomenon. We are seeing its impacts today across the state of Ohio through record high temperatures, increased lake-effect snow on Lake Erie, increased risk of severe flooding, and more. These extreme weather events have serious impacts on our health and our communities.
For far too long, Ohio’s regressive energy landscape has harmed communities across the state. Communities that are under-resourced by the state—particularly Black, Indigenous, AAPI, Latinx, disabled, and low-income communities—bear the worst brunt of consequences of climate change, despite contributing the least to carbon emissions.
Ohioans need action across the board to achieve major carbon reductions and to slow climate change. In doing so, we need an energy policy that does not shy away from confronting historical harms against marginalized communities facilitated by our unjust energy system.
The Energy Jobs and Justice Act is a chance for Ohio to do this and more. No single piece of legislation will fix everything. Climate change is the major wicked policy issue of our lifetimes—and Ohioans need bold solutions now that can confront the climate emergency underway. But taking action is necessary—it is a matter of protecting our health, fostering clean and safe environments for future generations to thrive, and building sustainable infrastructure to last. We can no longer tolerate continued inaction or policy favoring corrupt utility companies and the polluting fossil fuel industry. The status quo threatens the lives and wellbeing of all Ohioans, particularly those that have been historically neglected by environmental movements.
What is Energy Justice?
According to the Initiative for Energy Justice, “Energy justice refers to the goal of achieving equity in both the social and economic participation in the energy system, while also remediating social, economic, and health burdens on those disproportionately harmed by the energy system.” It further names energy burden, energy insecurity, energy poverty, and energy democracy as dimensions of energy justice. Simply put, energy justice calls for renewable energy policy that is clean, affordable, accessible, democratic, and beneficial to those most directly impacted.
Energy justice is similar to movements for environmental justice and climate justice in that the work centers on expanding accessibility and affordability, confronting historical harm and degradation, and addressing systemic injustices that dictate who is benefitting and who is neglected.
A Call for Energy Justice in Ohio
Ohioans deserve energy policy that not only reduces carbon emissions but also protects our communities and puts us in control of our destinies.
Climate change has, and will continue to, create new challenges, conflicts, and consequences related to our energy system. It contributes directly to increases in household utility bills, overworked cooling and electrical systems, and negative health impacts on vulnerable populations. This creates high energy burdens for many Ohioans.
On top of this, the House Bill 6 scandal was an immense corruption and bribery scheme, deemed one of the biggest scandals in Ohio’s history. And Ohioans are still paying the price of this corruption—amounting to more than $10,000 that leaves our state every hour going to prop up Cold War era coal plants that actively contribute to climate change and air pollution in the region. As the state recovers from House Bill 6’s fallout—alongside other lasting influences from the fossil fuel industry and environmental racism—we must work toward clean energy solutions that uplift and address the concerns of our communities.
Energy justice is key to facilitating a just transition away from the destructive, extractive fossil fuel industry that exacerbates the climate crisis and toward clean energy solutions that provide tangible economic benefits and resources to communities historically neglected and under-resourced.
Ohio’s Pathway Forward: the Energy Jobs and Justice Act
The Energy Jobs and Justice Act (EJJA), is a unique piece of legislation that centers Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) as well as low-income communities in the transition away from fossil fuels.
First introduced in September 2021, and currently being championed by lead co-sponsors Rep. Casey Weinstein (D-Hudson) and Rep. Juanita Brent (D-Cleveland), the Energy Jobs and Justice Act is a comprehensive energy policy rooted in equity, economic development, and accountability. The legislation will launch Ohio’s largest economic development initiative in recent history, prioritizing investments in clean energy jobs and environmental justice programs across the state. It would also create the Governor’s Office of Energy Justice, which would be responsible for overseeing the implementation of energy justice principles in the PUCO’s work and other agencies statewide. There are three primary pillars of the Energy Jobs and Justice Act: equity, carbon emissions reductions, and transparency and accountability.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Ohio emits the seventh largest amount of carbon in the country, and it’s time that we invest in sustainable clean energy futures instead of the damaging fossil fuels of the past. EJJA calls for all electricity sold to Ohio utility customers and all electricity generated in Ohio to be 100% carbon-free by 2050. By reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, we have the opportunity to create new economic benefits from clean energy job growth and development, and this legislation ensures BIPOC communities are prioritized in this transition. EJJA also focuses on the development and implementation of clean energy and energy waste reduction standards proven to grow Ohio jobs and save Ohioans billions of dollars by decreasing energy consumption, while simultaneously reducing the influence of utilities over policymaking and regulatory actions.
The Energy Jobs and Justice Act would give Ohio the chance to be a leader in the Midwest on equitable clean energy policy. We have a prime opportunity to recreate the narrative around clean energy policy here in Ohio, with goals of bringing frontline communities to the forefront through intentional relationship building, redirecting resources and generating benefits for all, as well as pushing for those in power to be held accountable for their wrongdoing. As we look to rectify the historical and disproportionate environmental harms experienced by marginalized communities, in addition to the regressive energy landscape here in Ohio, we’ll need sweeping action to move the state forward.
The time is now to cultivate an energy landscape that puts people first, and the Energy Jobs and Justice Act has the opportunity to be the progressive guiding light Ohioans deserve.