Environmental justice and power plant emissions in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative states.

Juan Declet-Barreto,Andrew A Rosenberg

PloS one(2022)

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Policies to reduce greenhouse gases associated with electricity generation have been a major focus of public policy in the United States, but their implications for achieving environmental justice among historically overburdened communities inappropriately remains a marginal issue. In this study we address research gaps in historical and current ambient air emissions burdens in environmental justice communities from power plants participating in the Regional Greenhouse Gases Initiative (RGGI), the country's first market-based power sector emissions reduction program. We find that in RGGI states the percentage of people of color that live within 0-6.2 miles from power plants is up to 23.5 percent higher than the percent of the white population that lives within those same distance bands, and the percentage of people living in poverty that live within 0-5 miles from power plants is up to 15.3 percent higher than the percent of the population not living in poverty within those same distance bands. More importantly, the transition from coal to natural gas underway before RGGI formally started resulted in large increases in both the number of electric-generating units burning natural gas and total net generation from natural gas in environmental justice communities hosting electric-generating units, compared to other communities. Our findings indicate that power sector carbon mitigation policies' focusing on aggregate emissions reductions have largely benefitted non-environmental justice communities and have not redressed the fundamental problem of disparities in pollutant burdens between EJ and non-EJ communities. These must be directly addressed in climate change and carbon emissions mitigation policy.
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