PI Original Ellyn Fortino Wednesday August 3rd, 2016, 3:38pm

Enviros Rally In Chicago, Testify At EPA Hearing On Clean Energy Incentive Program (VIDEO)

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is holding a daylong public hearing in Chicago Wednesday about its proposed Clean Energy Incentive Program. Progress Illinois provides highlights from the morning testimony and an afternoon rally staged by environmental and community advocacy groups.

Environmentalists from across the country were in Chicago Wednesday to testify before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about its proposed Clean Energy Incentive Program (CEIP).

CEIP is an optional component of the Clean Power Plan, which seeks to slash carbon emissions from existing U.S. power plants. The voluntary incentive program is meant to jump-start action to curb carbon pollution and help states comply with the Clean Power Plan.

CEIP seeks to reward early investment in energy efficiency and solar projects in low-income communities as well as zero-emitting renewable energy projects -- including wind, solar, geothermal and hydropower -- in all communities.

Participating states could use the emission allowances or emission rate credits distributed through the program to comply with the Clean Power Plan when it takes effect in 2022. The EPA, which released its updated CEIP plan in June, is proposing that the matching pool of allowances or emission rate credits be split evenly between low-income community projects and renewable energy projects. 

Emma Lockridge, a leader with Michigan United and the People's Action Institute, was among dozens of speakers from across the country who testified this morning in support of making CEIP mandatory and more comprehensive. 

Lockridge and many other hearing attendees described themselves as living in frontline, environmental justice communities.

A southwest Detroit resident, Lockridge lives near the Marathon Petroleum refinery in the "most polluted ZIP code in the entire state of Michigan."

"It is a pretty horrific place to live," Lockridge said of the 48217 ZIP code of Detroit. "We are a very distressed community. ... I am the face of environmental wrongs making a plea that we get justice done right by the EPA. We are relying on you, because we have a failed state that does not care about our health."

Many Illinoisans, including Johnson County resident Stephen Nickels, provided testimony at the hearing before attending a noon rally at Federal Plaza with other environmentalists. 

The southern Illinois resident was one of several hearing attendees who urged the EPA to establish a mandatory baseline definition of "low-income community." Specifically, they want the definition to include past and present disproportionate exposure to air pollution as well as economic dependence on coal mining and other forms of fossil fuel extraction.

"Without that definition, communities like mine could get left out of the CEIP," stressed Nickels, who is with Illinois People's Action and Fair Economy Illinois. "We can't afford to let that happen."

CEIP, Nickels argued, should "prioritize energy efficiency, renewable energy and the jobs that go with them for" low-income and affected communities.

"We Illinoisans need a rapid transition to renewable power that will generate prevailing wage jobs, improve our air and water quality, and bring environmental justice to the areas long abused," he said.

Speaker after speaker noted that economically disadvantaged communities are disproportionately affected by pollution. 

"Our low-income communities have been polluted and disinvested from and disenfranchised for far too long," said Gary Zuckett with the West Virginia Citizen Action Group. "We need these affected populations to be at the center of the solutions, not included as an optional afterthought."

EPA officials took public testimony in two separate rooms during the hearing, which began at 9 a.m. and will end at 8 p.m. It is the only public hearing being held on CEIP's proposed design details. The EPA is accepting public comment on the proposal through September 2.

As for the Clean Power Plan, its implementation remains on hold pending the outcome of a legal challenge. States, however, can continue planning for the new regulations if they so choose. At Wednesday's hearing, EPA officials said they are confident the Clean Power Plan will ultimately be upheld.

Charles Jiang with the Environmental Defense Fund pressed the EPA to swiftly finalize CEIP's design and implementation details, explaining that "14 states and numerous other stakeholders" are seeking such information.

"Providing design and implementation information for this voluntary program is clearly consistent with the stay of the Clean Power Plan," he added. 

During her testimony, Michelle DiMuzio with the Natural Resources Defense Council offered three recommendations for improving CEIP. 

The EPA, she said, should not provide credits for projects that would happen regardless of the incentives. Her other recommendations include prioritizing CEIP credits for new and expanded energy efficiency projects in low-income communities and placing a focus on energy-related investments for the housing in which low-income people live.  

"The primary benefits of this portion of the CEIP should flow towards people and communities most in need," she said. "Small businesses and public institutions that serve these communities are second to investing in people and their housing needs."

At noon, environmental groups rallied at Federal Plaza, chanting call-and-response style: "What do we want? Climate justice! When do we want it? Now!" Kim Wasserman-Nieto, executive director of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, was among the speakers:

Wasserman-Nieto stressed the importance of green jobs.

"We want all our jobs to be green. It should not just be about solar panels, and it should not just be about energy efficiency," she told the crowd. "From the women who clean these office buildings, to the men who do the custodial work, every single job in this city should be a green job."

The Rev. Tony Pierce, a Peoria resident with Illinois People's Action, said communities of color have "suffered long enough" with environmental and economic injustices. CEIP, he said, should be "used as an effective tool to correct this long-standing, painfully unbearable problem." 

"It must do so to provide clean energy for us, while at the same time pushing more of us out of poverty into our nation's middle class," he said. "We are not just seeking energy security, we are seeking energy sovereignty." 

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