April 16, 2024

Lawmakers and Clergy Call for Urgent Solutions to Energy Affordability Crisis at Rev. Al Sharpton’s 2024 National Action Network (NAN) Convention

Panelists emphasized the need to ensure Black and Brown Americans’ voices are heard in climate change and energy conversations

New York, NY — Reverend Malcolm T. Byrd, Senior Pastor at Mother AME Zion Church joined former Senator Mary Landrieu, former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, and former Congressman Kendrick Meek to shed light on the urgent need for affordable energy solutions in the fight against climate change. The Honorable Donald Cravins, former Under Secretary for Minority Business Development at the U.S. Department of Commerce, moderated a panel at Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network (NAN) Convention called “Affordable Energy is a Civil Rights Issue: Why we can’t leave Black and Brown voices out of the clean energy conversation.”

The NAN Convention galvanized leaders around critical issues in the ongoing fight for civil rights. Chief among these was the ability of Black and Brown Americans to keep the lights on with mounting energy prices and the rise in extreme weather conditions – from winter storms to record-breaking heat in the summers. 

Rev. Byrd kicked off the affordable energy panel, which comes seven months ahead of the 2024 election, by describing his experience with this firsthand. Byrd shells out a staggering $6,000 every ten days to keep his NYC congregation warm with fuel oil during the winter, while a natural gas pipeline is nearby. It’s imperative for Byrd’s congregations, a sanctuary for the Black community, to withstand energy costs without the added burden of impractical energy solutions. 

Unfortunately, Byrd’s experience is not unique. Many families struggle to pay the bills in the winter, having to decide if they will heat or eat. According to the Department of Energy, low-income households, a demographic in which Black and Brown Americans are disproportionately represented, contribute an average of 8.6% of their income to energy bills, compared to 3% for non-low-income households.

“We need to pay attention closely in this energy conversation,” said Sen. Landrieu. “We need to make sure this energy transition is affordable, or the bill will come due to the poor and the middle class.”

The panelists discussed how natural gas in combination with renewables can lower emissions, create job opportunities, and address energy disparities among Black, Brown, and low-income Americans. 

“Natural gas is a clean-burning fuel,” explained Rep. Meek. “We become a stronger country by allowing individuals to have the dollars to send their children to school and do the things they need to do to improve the situation for their families, and not have to pay through their nose to stay warm in the winter time.” 

As Mayor Nutter described his experience navigating complex energy solutions while leading one of the biggest cities in the country, he also articulated the opportunity presented by reliable energy sources like natural gas.

“We need to make sure there is affordable, reliable, dependable energy source for folks,” said Mayor Nutter, pointing to both the need for affordable energy and the opportunity for economic growth for communities nationwide. “Someone has to run that plant, someone has to rehabilitate those pipes. Those are jobs.”

“It’s about clean energy. It’s about affordable energy,” said Rev. Malcolm Byrd in his powerful closing remarks. “It’s about us being able as a people to keep the landmarks in our communities, to let future generations know, this Church was paid for by a grandmother that fried chicken and fried fish and did what she had to do to give us this institution. And we are not going to sell it, we are not going to lose it, because we cannot afford the oil prices.”

As legislators craft energy solutions, the panelists emphasized, Black and Brown perspectives must be at the center of these conversations, so clean energy policy can better the livelihoods of all communities nationwide. 

To watch the full panel, click here.