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Environmental Justice Meets Systemic Racism

Environmental Justice Meets Systemic Racism

By Cecelia Plante, Co-Chair, Maryland Legislative Coalition

When will it stop? 

The people of Brandywine, Maryland understand systemic racism in a way that people of color across the state understand.  With its 70% African American population, it is home to FOUR fossil fuel power plants, a Superfund hazardous waste site, a toxic coal ash landfill and surface mining operations, all of which emit toxins into the air and ground on a daily basis.  And all of which are within thirteen miles of each other. 

You would think that the state would be making plans to reduce this fossil fuel infrastructure and work to switch over to clean solar or wind energy.  That’s what the Clean Energy Jobs Act required when it was passed two years ago.  It set standards for reducing the state’s overall greenhouse gas emissions 50% by 2030.  But, if you think that the Hogan administration would pay attention to that mandate, you would be wrong.  You would also be wrong if you thought that this predominately African American community would be spared from any further fossil fuel infrastructure.

Instead, the current plan by the Hogan administration is to allow a FIFTH power plant (the Panda/Mattawoman Plant) AND a pipeline to be built inside of the same thirteen-mile radius and within a half mile from the elementary school.  The administration pretends that somehow, this will not increase our greenhouse gas emissions because it will be a natural gas-fired power plant, as opposed to coal.  As if natural gas was not a source of greenhouse gases, or a toxic pollutant.  Natural gas is NOT clean energy.  This plant alone is estimated to increase our greenhouse gas emissions by about 4 million tons per year. 

Another problem with the Hogan plan is that the pipeline will bring fracked gas into the power plant.  If you are remembering that Maryland banned fracking, you are correct. However, the Hogan administration is getting around the ban by bringing in fracked gas from other states that allow fracking. 

This pipeline will cross 19 wetlands and streams within the Mattawoman stream and Zekiah swamp watersheds.  It will leak.  That is a guarantee based on all of our past experience with pipelines.  They leak.  They also blow up occasionally.  And the company that wants to build this pipeline, Panda Energy LLC, has already said that if the plant is built, it will certainly require additional pipelines to be built as well.

This is all very disturbing.  Allowing this plan to go forward is a giant setback in terms of meeting Maryland’s current greenhouse gas reduction targets.  It will make it that much harder to achieve a net zero carbon footprint and will leave Maryland with 30-40 years of additional fossil fuel infrastructure that leaks and continues to burn toxins.  It is also very clearly targeting this community yet again. 

All it will take to put this plan into motion is an authorization from the Public Service Commission.  The decision will come very soon – on or after December 9th at the next Public Service Commission meeting.  Many of the local community members that would be affected by this new infrastructure are not even aware that it is so close to being approved.  Online notices don’t actually ensure that local communities are aware, especially if they are not paying attention to the Public Service Commission. 

We can do better.  We can hold our elected officials accountable for not only supporting systemic racism like this, but also being negligent in the face of the climate crisis and failing to promote clean infrastructure and jobs that would help us achieve the targets mandated by the Clean Energy Jobs Act.  The Hogan administration must not continue to promote policies that invest further in dirty energy and old technologies.  Marylanders expect more responsible governing.