Beyond Copenhagen

Co-authored by: Lissa Domoracki and Carrie Gilbert

[Part 4 in the Shriver Center’s series on Climate Change and Low-Income Communities.]

Climate change and policies to combat it are subjects that have yet to appear on the radar screens of low-income people and their advocates. It is essential that this hands-off attitude change quickly since Congress has already started to make momentous decisions that will dramatically affect low-income people and communities for decades to come. At the end of this article we will tell you how you can get involved.   

Climate change has a disproportionately negative impact on low-income communities. These populations bear the brunt of the physical changes, such as dangerously high temperatures, yet they lack the resources to combat them. Additionally, the transition to renewable energy sources will increase consumer costs, crippling the purchasing power of low-income people unless adequate and appropriately targeted consumer relief is provided. Climate change legislation must protect low-income families and individuals from these harmful effects. In addition, climate change legislation must guarantee that low-income people can access the jobs and economic opportunities created by the new green economy.

This past June the House of Representatives took a significant step by passing the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (H.R. 2454). H.R. 2454 addresses key climate change issues by proposing the establishment of a cap and trade system for carbon emissions as well as the implementation of heightened emissions, efficiency, and renewable energy standards. It also provides adequate levels of consumer relief to protect low-income people from increased costs and provides the access to green jobs that is needed.  

Senator Kerry, the Senate’s leader on climate change issues, predicts spring passage of climate change legislation.  Currently, there are several proposals on the table in the Senate:

  • The Clean Energy Jobs & American Power Act, S. 1733, sponsored by Senators Kerry (D-MA) and Boxer (D-CA), which has already emerged from the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
  • The Carbon Limits and Energy for American Renewal bill filed by Senators Cantwell (D-WA) and Collins (R-ME).
  • The “tripartisan” “Framework for Climate Action and Energy Independence in the U.S. Senate” recently unveiled by Senators Kerry (D-MA), Graham (R-SC), and Lieberman (I-CT), outlining their efforts to move forward in pursuit of climate change legislation. 
  • The Clean Energy Act of 2009, sponsored by Senators Alexander (R-TN) and Webb (D-VA), which focuses primarily on the development of nuclear energy.
  • A power-plant focused bill introduced by Senators Voinovich (R-OH) and Lugar (R-IN).

Days before the conference in Copenhagen, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) declared carbon and several other greenhouse gases health hazards under the Clean Air Act. With this declaration, the EPA signaled its intent to implement and enforce regulations on carbon emissions, if necessary. The EPA regulations would be much less flexible than the market-based solutions currently under debate in Congress, and are generally viewed as a “second-choice” plan to combat climate change if the effort to pass legislation fails.           

As negotiations continue, we all must do our part to ensure that the resulting climate bill reduces carbon emissions enough to reverse the effects of climate change while at the same time providing adequate consumer protection for low-income households and meaningful assurances that low-income and minority individuals will benefit from the job opportunities that emerge out of this country’s new green economy. 

Click here to see the letter the Shriver Center recently sent to Senator Durbin (D-IL) urging him to support sufficient reductions in carbon emissions, adequate consumer relief, and job opportunities for low-income and minority individuals in the ongoing negotiations. We sent a similar letter to Senator Burris (D-IL).

Over the crucial next few months, the Shriver Center will continue its efforts to ensure that comprehensive climate change legislation becomes law and that such legislation adequately addresses the needs and concerns of low-income people and communities. We invite you to join us in this effort. If you would like to be kept apprised of advocacy opportunities, including possible group sign-on letters, please contact Carrie Gilbert ( or Lissa Domoracki ( 


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