How Well does the Energy Industry Serve People of Color?

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The energy industy (both fossil and renewable) is failing to provide benefits to people of color, and in many instances undermining the health of this community.

energy industry

By Angelina Bambina/

That was one of the messages from a group of medical, energy and poverty experts who spoke at Race and Energy, a webinar presented this week by Pecan Street, a data research and product testing company in Austin, Texas.

In Texas, for example, the energy industry offers many economic benefits, said John Hall, director, regulatory & legislative affairs, Environmental Defense Fund. But those benefits don’t extend to communities of color.

In fact, Black and Latinx residents generally live near fossil fuel plants and suffer from the pollution they produce without benefitting from the economic rewards.

That’s especially true in Texas, he said.

Neighborhood pollution

“African Americans especially in Texas have to deal with an interesting phenomenon. They live in neighborhoods close to those facilities and bear the brunt of the pollution. Those residents don’t benefit in large part from the big economic benefits the energy sector can and does provide.” African Amercians haven’t been incorporated into energy companies’ workforces or reached a level of equal employment, he said.

The panelists cited a recent New York Times article  about how Black Americans are 75% more likely to live near facilities that emit pollution.

One of the panelists, Diana Hernandez, assistant professor of sociomedical sciences, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, described living in The Bronx, where she said environmental insults burden her community and hurt the health of her neighbors and family members.

“I as a person of color feel really strongly that this is a moment for us to act and to recognize and reckon with the challenges of racial inequity,” she said.

And the energy industry, more than any other, needs to act, the panelists said.

After the murder of George Floyd, many industries — including sports, financial, retail, food and high-tech — made commitments to promote racial justice and equality, said Hall.

But the energy industry — which offers high-paying jobs and good benefits — didn’t take action.

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Lack of action by energy industry

“In my research I couldn’t find one energy company either on the electric generating side or in terms of gas companies…that had come forward and made a positive commitment to engage in a concrete way in those issues,” Hall said.

The industry will likely fail to provide a more diverse workforce and address environmental issues related to their operation unless the federal government acts, he said.

Like the fossil fuel industry, the clean energy industry hasn’t extended its benefits to communities of color, Hall said.

Lack of jobs, products for people of color

“The clean energy industry in Texas is very important because of the jobs it can provide,” he said. “When it comes to being proactive in terms of engaging with the African American community and other communities of color, I think it’s lacking,” he said.

That’s true even though these communities often support efforts to combat climate change. Hall cited support by the Congressional Black Caucus for climate legislation when it was introduced into Congress eight years ago.

In Texas, the clean energy industry is missing an important opportunity to offer products to people of color. “If they could actually place as much emphasis on extending clean energy to communities of color in this state, they’d make more money. They have an economic self interest,” he said.

Hernandez said that Black and Latinx people are often renters and lack the ability to take advantage of solar.

Read related article: The Importance of Microgrids for Marginalized Communities

The clean energy industry, like the fossil fuel industry, has also failed to focus on a more diverse workforce, Hall said.

Energy companies need to ensure that their policies and programs don’t unduly burden communities of color. That includes rate increases, which generally benefit White people, said Hernandez. Communities of color generally don’t benefit from the energy sector’s investments.

Inclusion, diversity and equity should be a focus of companies’ missions, she said.

Build the pipeline

“It’s not enough and not okay to say we don’t have talented and qualified people of color to fill those (jobs). If that is the case, I charge you with building the pipeline. We have to think about the short term and long term. If we are committed to racial justice, we have to address the issue of race head on,” she said.

Companies need to think about diversifying how they recruit workers and creating pathways that serve Black and Latinx people, panellists said.

“As we begin to reflect and think about what we can do moving forward, it’s probably the case we have more work to be done in the energy sector than in any other,” said Hall.

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  1. Diversity and Inclusion training was mandated for us over 12 years ago at our utility. It basically focused on accepting perspectives from foreigners with Muslim origin and gays. Our company already had a diverse workforce, so it basically was to shame a few good ole boys by embarrassing them in front of the workforce. D&I became a metric on management scorecards for yearly bonuses. When interviewing management new hires we had preformatted interview questions about an applicants D&I until Human Resources had some sort of realization and that question curiously was dropped. In just the last few years though, the pity party and victim mentality has grown and the left is leveraging it for promoting racial hiring quotas. There has been zero shareholder value gained by mandating virtue diversity and inclusion and quotas, which is blatant virtue signalling. And what is virtue signalling used for? Gaining political power, plain and simple. When I supervised in a black community the majority of my employees were African American. When I supervised in an Asian community, the majority of my direct reports were Asian. When I supervised in the interior valley half of employees were white and the other half were Hispanic. When jobs are relocated, most employees are forced to follow the job to maintain their lifestyle with hopes of a different job opening that allows them to return. But, some choose to take a demotion and salary reduction to not uproot their kids. All ethnicities seem to try and find work close to where they were raised, so they have a family support system as they raise children.
    Why would you mess with that common sense situation and try to engineer a demographic that is unnatural? Like I said, to gain political power.

    • Thanks for the ACTUAL experience you’ve had with the so called… communities of color. The workforce in the outdoors sector takes some special requirements, skin color is not one of them. Sorry, Hernandez, the worst lie you’ve told is the one you tell yourself.

      Young, stamina, and the ability to withstand extreme heat 105 degrees Fahrenheit or greater to be able to DO the job is the requirement. There are a lot of folks of many colors, that would be adversely effected, to the point of death, working in these conditions. So the disingenuous uninformed , communities of color is just a thinly veiled racist rant on the part of the pontificator, hear that Hernandez? It’s not about skin color or the color of the community, Hernandez, it’s about green and how well an individual stands up to harsh environments to work for this “green”.

  2. “Energy companies need to ensure that their policies and programs don’t unduly burden communities of color. That includes rate increases, which generally benefit White people, said Hernandez. Communities of color generally don’t benefit from the energy sector’s investments.”

    Wait, what? Rate increases generally benefit White people…. do these so called Communities of color have electricity? Then the rate increases help subsidize their “right” to electricity too. Hernandez a circular racism argument do I detect in your pundits of Communities of color? Pack your bags, we’re going on a guilt trip, how pathetic.

  3. I live close to Newark, NJ. We just storm Isaishs come through and knock out power. We had literally hundreds of almost all White, all male crews from Florida and Missouri come through fixing power lines. These are plum, high-paying jobs that require only a high-school education. And you know what, the residents treated the crews great. None animosity or resentment that the workers with “chips-on-their-shoulder” were expecting. Everyone deserves a shot at great utility job. Basically, the only way I see this working is that White men are going to have to be less selfish and give up just a little so that people who don’t look like them have just a little bit more.

    • Chris, does or does not New Jersey have an apprentice program for many professions? First you “learn the job by doing”, then you get to certify for that job and become a Journeyman. NOTHING is handed to you so you can have a “shot” at a utility job, just work for it like the “White crews do”. Factoid, most house electricians are not NFPA-70E qualified. Those that have to take the training to qualify for a lineman’s job and those with the additional high voltage training end up in the NFPA-70E course. About 1 in 5 drop out of the class when they find out how bad it is when one screws up with high voltages that cause arc flash incidences. These guys with a “chip on their shoulder” are away from home, work overtime until it is dangerous and realize each time they top a pole, crawl into an underground electrical service disconnect, may be the last day of their lives. For that big paycheck, there is a risk and incompetence and race expectations will not fly in the real world of HVAC.

      I submit, IF you really wanted to be a lineman, you would have used the internet to find a trade-tech school instead of crying foul here.

  4. You know im reading these replies about its an excuse that people of color not getting the Opportunities like white guys, let me say this i started in the electrical trade in the mid 80’s so I this k I have somewhat of an insight. The fact is yes the industry is less Racist than it use to be, but the industry still have a great deal of work to do when it comes to inclusion. The were mention of trade school or Apprenticeship funny… All that gold ant glitter they half to accept you into the program first back in the day the good old boys controlled who got in, how do I know I tried to, as a helper in the trade i wanted to join the program but was told all types of excuses for not excepting me but you cant stop a Train carrying on a mission, so I work open shop learned studied got my journeymen license at which point they welcome me into the union once I attained that level through my own efferts. The thing is the Construction trade are full of good old boys it wad like that back than and it like that today, I’ve worked in the trade for over 30 years open shop, union, government, its the mentally . finally I opened my own electrical contracting company and i also teach the trade so for those making Excuses for the ignorance in the Industry we old timers know better.