Last month, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed a new measure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. Opponents jeered and supporters cheered, and both sides have begun gearing up for what will surely be a long and contentious fight. But one question still remains unanswered: What will this rule do to American jobs and to the average American's energy bills?
African-American businesses, entrepreneurs and workers need to better understand this rule because the potential impact may hit them more directly, and more severely, than any other group. Higher energy costs could be devastating to small businesses, for which energy costs are often the highest, or one of the highest, operating expenses. Thousands of jobs by definition will be eliminated by this rule, but the same certainty does not exist in the promise of creating new jobs.
For low-income Americans, too many of whom are African-American, this rule could also be extremely harmful. Even prior to the rule's release, enrollment in the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) increased every year, and an estimated one-third of U.S. households qualify for some type of energy assistance program. With energy costs rising at a pace greater than the average family income, families, especially low-income families, are shouldering an enormous burden of the cost to power their homes and are often forced to make difficult decisions between other critical needs, like food and housing.
In a way only the government can, the EPA has put forth a radical solution to a problem that is already on the course to being solved. We have made great strides in cutting carbon emissions as a country, and the investments made by coal-burning power plants to limit emissions, not to mention continued research into promising renewable and alternative resources, have aided in these cuts. The EPA's purported "solution" begs many questions. Are we, with this new rule, throwing the baby out with the bathwater? Are we costing thousands of Americans their jobs and millions of dollars in energy bills with this action? So far, we haven't gotten a straight answer.
African-American businesses were being created at a steady rate prior to the economic crash in 2008. We have worked to get back to that level of growth, driven by both the desire to both contribute to our own communities and to help rebuild the broader U.S. economy, but not without sacrifices or toil. However, even before any action has been taken by the EPA on their latest proposal, energy costs continue to increase, while the median household income has decreased for African-American families. Our members have invested in their businesses, and in their employees; shouldn't our government be willing to make the same investments in us?
Alford is the cofounder, president and CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce.