We will face this global health and economic crisis together. Our hearts go out to the members of our communities who have been affected by the Covid-19 crisis, and we commit to contributing to the vast amounts of work that is happening to build a system that benefits everyone.
Like other crises, this pandemic has exposed an unprepared and unjust system that is unfit to support our basic needs. So many are losing their jobs, struggling with inadequate and unaffordable housing, and are unable to pay rent or energy bills. This crisis reveals that our system cannot secure the basic human rights of safe housing, food, water, healthcare, and energy. The crisis is also laying bare racial health disparities that have long plagued our city, state and nation. Many people are already paying for this with their lives.
We cannot go back to the way things were, nor should we. Our failing economic and governmental system is based on coercing many people into labor for the benefit of the few, systemically exploiting people based on race, and stealing land from Indigenous communities to further expand our extractive economy (such as the ongoing struggle for Unist’ot’en self-determination). We must send a clear message to the wealthy and to the political ruling class who benefitted from the previous system that today is a new day.
Right now, we have an opportunity to rebuild with justice and human rights at the core. This crisis has highlighted the necessity for people to have control over basic home health requirements like energy. As the weaknesses of the existing system become apparent, we see many non-profit organizations, faith institutions, mutual aid groups and community groups provide people power and volunteerism to fill in the gaps where the system has failed us. While this is inspiring and necessary, the status quo must change so that communities are supported and have the resources to look after themselves.
Our response to this crisis must embody climate justice and energy democracy, instead of austerity, corporate bailouts and increased profits for big banks and corporations. Low-income communities and communities of color were already bearing the brunt of health, environmental and economic burdens from our energy system before the current crisis. As the federal and state governments prepare bailouts and extensions of credit in the trillions as part of so-called relief efforts to the pandemic, justice demands that these resources go to those communities who are already in the path of the greatest harm.
We demand the following:
- All essential services must be free. These include: energy, food, housing, public transportation, internet access, water, healthcare, and education. In this era of sudden job loss, we cannot let access to these essential services be determined by the lottery of whose jobs are deemed essential by the state.
- We must revise our definition of essential services now. The vast majority of our renewable energy and energy efficiency professionals have been deemed non-essential by the state while fossil fuel and construction services have been deemed essential. New York is building luxury condos and replacing old gas furnaces with new gas furnaces while halting geothermal installations and home weatherizing for people struggling with their utility bills. This is unacceptable.
- Any response from New York State must adhere to the larger principles for a just response to the Covid-19 crisis established HERE.
AID AND RECOVERY
- The state must provide resources for air conditioning and funds for the associated electricity costs if “stay at home” orders stretch into the summer.
- We must institute a thorough overhaul of our tax system and ensure that the highest earners and corporations operating in New York pay their fair share of taxes so we can afford to care for residents’ basic human needs. Austerity measures such as cutting Medicaid are the opposite of what we need.
- Utility rate structures must be more progressive to support low income New Yorkers who are suffering. This was a necessity before the crisis and now it is even more so.
- Resources must be provided to frontline communities in a timely way, so that in the midst of this crisis people can feed themselves and their families as well as tend to their other basic needs. To that end we urge the state and localities to use as many existing means that governments currently use to electronically transfer cash to residents in their jurisdictions as much as possible and only rely on postal delivery of checks only when electronic means of cash delivery are not possible.
- We have a right to energy democracy. People must have the ability to determine how they generate their energy, how energy is priced, and how energy resources are allocated, prioritizing those most negatively impacted by our energy system.
- People must not have their energy shut off during a pandemic, period. We also cannot afford to let people accumulate debt for basic services during a time of crisis. This is true for both energy bills and rent/mortgage. It is already clear that corporate utilities handle energy shut offs during extreme weather incidents targeting low-income and communities of color after 2019 in NYC. We MUST correct this criminal behavior by holding accountable shareholder-owned utilities making decisions for our collective health and safety.
- We must safeguard businesses most essential to our transition to renewables. This includes providing forgivable, low-interest loans at this critical time to businesses fighting the climate crisis.
- The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) must do everything in its power right now to support New York State Renewable Energy (RE) and Energy Efficiency (EE) contractors. This includes but is not limited to releasing the current list of eligible lower to moderate income (LMI) program recipients to these contractors and facilitating the qualification process online or over the telephone. This will allow RE and EE contractors to leverage their sudden idle time to line up NYSERDA projects to start after the pandemic passes.
- The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) must prioritize projects pursuant to our climate goals. As NYSERDA begins to move recently halted energy projects forward, it must prioritize those projects that support the low-income communities and communities of color that are most impacted.
- During this crisis, we must not lose sight of our ongoing goals of building a just and community controlled energy system. To that end, we support the creation of a public electric utility (see the Public Power campaign site HERE) and the passage of the Climate and Community Investment Act (see the NY Renews site HERE) as soon as the state legislature is able to do so.
- The rebuilding of our economy must include an immediate end to fossil fuel infrastructure buildout and subsidies. This crisis cannot be used as an opportunity to increase our dependence on fossil fuels while people are paying attention to their immediate health and safety. Furthermore, we need to retire aging and unsafe nuclear reactors as a part of a just transition to renewable energy. (see the Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers for Healthy Energy study HERE)