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Higher energy costs will put an unfair burden on Arizona families

Dr. Charles Steele Jr. is president and CEO of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).

Dr. Charles Steele Jr. is president and CEO of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).

As the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), I frequently travel throughout the U.S. And in my journeys, I’m quite often struck by the fact that so many families are struggling to find financial security. I find it troubling that hardworking Americans are often eking out a living, barely making it from paycheck to paycheck.

I often wonder how these families are managing to keep food on their table? And how, during a particularly bitter winter season, did they manage to keep their homes warm?

I raise this point because I’m particularly concerned by new regulations that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing. As a step toward addressing climate change, the EPA wants to greatly reduce carbon dioxide emissions from coal-burning power plants, and wants governors across the country to close the coal-fired plants in their states.

Such a move could significantly affect Arizona residents because coal-fired power plants provide roughly 40% of the state’s electricity. Many other states also depend heavily on coal, which means that the affordability of electricity for millions of Americans is at stake.

The problem with the EPA’s plan is that the power plants in question often provide the largest portion of our electricity, and usually at the most affordable rates. No matter one’s views on the climate issue, the EPA’s approach is simply too blunt. There is already a consensus among energy experts who oversee the nation’s public utilities that the EPA plan will cut power production without offering reliable alternatives, and will have almost no actual impact on climate. The only tangible result will be a significant jump in the cost of electricity for both homes and businesses.

So let’s focus for a moment on those families who are struggling to make ends meet. What will higher monthly utility bills mean for them? Paying for electricity is not a discretionary expense. The poor and the elderly on fixed incomes already pay an out-sized portion of their limited budget in order to have heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer. And they already have fewer dollars to pay for these necessities.

I understand the intended reasoning of the EPA plan, namely to cut carbon dioxide emissions. But we already have it within our power to move toward a cleaner environment without causing harm to lower income Americans. We have clean coal, and advanced technologies are already helping us achieve lower emissions. And U.S. power plants are already far cleaner than factories and power plants in Asia.

We can get to a cleaner environment without victimizing those who are already struggling financially. And so, before the EPA adopts these measures, it should think twice about pursuing extreme rules that will have a negligible environmental impact, but could bring great pain to hard-working everyday Americans.

– Dr. Charles Steele Jr. is president and CEO of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), a civil rights organization co-founded by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


  1. Hmmmm. How to inexpensively provide power to a state with ~300 days of relentless, *free* sunshine every year. It’s a real quandary.

    And the EPA plan wasn’t just about carbon, but also heavy metals (and other known atmospheric poisons) which are highly toxic and accumulate in human bodies over time, with disastrous results. AND let’s keep in mind that fossil fuels *will run out* anyway, regardless of any imposed regulations. Probably sooner than most people like to think.

    The answers are easy, but not very profitable I’m afraid.

  2. News flash: poor people don’t want high electricity bills.

    You don’t say…

    Dr. Steele neglects to mention they probably don’t want respiratory, cardiovascular or neurological diseases either–all of which are caused by coal plant emissions and, which, by the way, are overwhelmingly deposited upon said poor people.

    He also fails to mention there are viable alternatives to coal in addition to wind and solar, like natural gas. Point being Steele paints only one solution to our energy needs (coal) when there are clearly others that are just as viable either individually or collectively, that are easier on the environment, cost less and will keep rates down in the long term.

    BTW, a Yale study ( shows 67% of American parents say they would willingly pay more to support renewable energy deployment (18% of respondents had annual incomes <$25K and 41% have annual incomes <$50K). Another study ( shows 70% of African Americans believe we should be using more wind and solar energy. Odd, then, that Dr. Steele has adopted a position contrary to what the vast majority of his own constituents believe and want.

  3. Steele is not credible on this issue. He has been shown to have deep ties to fossil fuel industry. See:

    Institute For Southern Studies: Steele Has “Close Personal Ties To Energy Interests.” Southern Christian Leadership Conference President Charles Steele Jr., the only black or Hispanic leader that The Washington Times mentioned by name, has deep fossil fuel industry ties. According to a special report by the Institute for Southern Studies, Steele previously made “exaggerated claims about the cost of coal ash regulation” at an EPA hearing while representing Working People for Fair Energy, an organization with “close ties to industry interests with a financial stake in fighting coal ash regulation.” The report further detailed that Steele cited research during the hearing from a group called the Affordable Power Alliance, which is affiliated with another organization that has “supported anti-environmental initiatives such as expanded oil drilling while accepting money from Exxon Mobil and other corporations.” The Institute for Southern Studies concluded that “Steele’s perspective is shaped by the close personal ties to energy interests forged during his decade in the Alabama senate”:

    In an interview with Facing South, Steele said he didn’t see a problem with WPFE’s and [Partnership for Affordable Clean Energy’s] relationship with industries that have a financial stake in fighting coal ash regulation.

    “Our issues are the same,” he said.

    Steele’s perspective is shaped by the close personal ties to energy interests forged during his decade in the Alabama senate, where he chaired the Industrial Recruitment Committee. Alabama Power — a major player in state politics — was one of the biggest contributors to his campaigns.

    When Steele left the state senate in 2004 to head SCLC, he was taking the helm of an organization in deep trouble financially and otherwise. But Steele’s connections helped turn around the SCLC’s money woes. He built a new $3 million headquarters for the organization with a capital campaign headed by Mike Garrett, president and CEO of Georgia Power, “whom Steele got to know during his days in the Alabama legislature,” as Ebony magazine reported. [Institute for Southern Studies, September 2010]

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