Renewable energy and racial justice, too

By: Monica Huertas

Originally published on

Monica Huertas is the co-chair of the Renew Rhode Island coalition. She also serves as executive director of The People’s Port Authority, a group of Providence residents demanding community oversight over the Port of Providence, and helps to lead the Racial and Environmental Justice Committee of Providence.

Our state government has an affirmative duty to ensure that Rhode Islanders have clean air and water, but in my neighborhood, that has been far from the case.

While industries like offshore wind power are poised to bring $100 billion to U.S. economies in less than 10 years, for Black and brown communities like mine to benefit, we have to first address the underlying racism that keeps us saying “we can’t breathe.” This legislative session in Rhode Island, an unprecedented multiracial group has come up with the first step toward re-establishing the basic civil liberties that are the right of every Rhode Islander in a policy package called the Rescue Rhode Island Act.

The Rescue Rhode Island Act tackles the climate crisis from the root, grasping the overlapping and underlying crises of housing, food security, and clean air and water simultaneously. If you understand systemic racism, it will be clear that severe inequities are woven throughout our society with policy that is structured  with a lack of access to what we need to survive. The Rescue Rhode Island Act starts here, making multi-solution investments in communities such as affordable green housing that will drive down emissions from the housing sector that accounts for 19 percent of our state’s emissions. The package also puts a cap on utility costs, creates thousands of high-quality jobs, and establishes a baseline of food sovereignty with local sustainable food systems.

What’s more, the package would block toxic facilities from being built in the neighborhoods that are already overburdened with the some of the most severe exposure to dangerous pollutants in the country. These Green Justice Zones will also dismantle the toxic facilities that already exist and create a fund to remediate the ongoing harm they cause. Those who work in the facilities will be supported by a Just Transition program that will ensure they have the resources and training they need to transition into a new job with fair pay and good benefits.

These solutions were designed by community members in the very neighborhoods these policies aim to serve. Local grassroots social, environmental justice, and labor organizations came together to survey hundreds of their members and find out what is most important to them. Built into the policies are community engagement and empowerment requirements that make us part of the decision-making process, and acknowledge the expertise of the lived experience of those most impacted by extractive polluting industries, which is essential for any climate change policy to be a true solution.

We have no time to lose in establishing the groundwork for racial justice that is laid out in the Rescue Rhode Island Act. Our economies are transforming and there is a call to revitalize manufacturing in America and transition to 100 percent renewable energy at the same time. We can do both and provide dignified housing and access to local sustainable food at the same time. And, once we do, communities of color will have greater access to shaping the energy systems that we are so well-versed in by living through the worst of their impacts.

Call your elected officials today to urge them to support the Rescue Rhode Island Act and put us on the path toward a more equitable economy that is sustainable and protects the basic rights of every Rhode Islander.

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