DWEJ has been involved in energy policy and education in Detroit, Grand Rapids, and Flint through a Joyce Foundation grant we received in October of 2017. The purpose of our work is to create climate and energy policy engagement at the state and local levels. Energy policy reform is an important expansion over our “traditional” issues of focus. Energy policy that is environmentally, socially, and racially just reduces pollutants from energy production that both accelerate climate change and disproportionately affect communities of color. Not only do the residents of these communities bear the brunt of that burden, they often pay the highest energy bills. 

Addressing these issues directly can lead to a healthier, more equitable, society. Expanding renewable and electric vehicle infrastructure will create new green job markets, creating greater economic mobility and opportunity. Most importantly, these changes will help create a cleaner and more sustainable planet for future generations. 

Why Expand our Work beyond Detroit to Grand Rapids and Flint?

Momentum in Detroit had been growing around energy policy and its impacts on air quality, climate change, renewable source, and fair pricing when we applied for the Joyce Foundation grant. The CA-PHE Public Health Action Plan, which offered strategies to improve air quality in the city, had just been published. DWEJ was on its way to publishing the city’s first Climate Action Plan. In that same 2016-2017 timeframe, we were the first organization to bring an environmental justice voice to the conversation in Lansing around Michigan’s proposed clean energy bill (SB 437 and SB 438), and the only organization specifically representing our constituency to enter the statewide conversation. 

Why did we choose to enter that conversation? Simple. Five years earlier, when Michigan’s first clean energy bill was debated, environmental justice was not part of the discussion and critical needs had no voice. As a result, Detroit’s municipal waste incinerator was defined as “clean” renewable energy under the new regulation. Needless to say, it was terrible news for our community. It took another four years of fighting on the local level to close this toxic facility. Even after closing the incinerator, Detroit continues to have the highest asthma rates in Michigan. 

Our Solution

In order for our voice to be heard loud and clear – not typical when new energy policy is being created – and for environmental justice to always have a seat at the table when decisions are being made, we expanded our grassroots reach beyond Detroit. Grand Rapids and Flint were chosen because both cities are also home to low-income communities of color who shared in the burden of energy poverty and unequal impacts of pollution.

Our history of working with a wide array of stakeholders allows us to put our skills, our networks, and our dynamic vision to work on a broad scale, expanding the connective power of the region around energy issues. Our intention is to create a broader energy environmental justice movement and give our communities’ a greater voice at the state level to influence the next vote on energy policy.

Before that becomes possible on a large scale, it’s vital for under-represented voices to understand the energy world and how it impacts their lives. Energy literacy is an increasingly important skill in our climate changing world, and is why we are engaged in these energy education and grassroots efforts. If we can help communities and policy decision makers speak the same language, they will become a unified force in a positive energy future.

Our Impact 

DWEJ’s purpose has often been that of a partner rather than a leader. We build trust within the community by forging alliances, joining existing networks, and finding workable, community-based solutions.

Between 2017 – 2019, we worked to create positive impact toward the creation of better energy policy in Michigan by:

  • Identifying critical equality issues through community engagement. Although all three communities face similar issues (unhealthy levels of air pollution, energy rates, and site regulations), there are also very distinct differences
  • Educating local stakeholders on these issues to develop action-oriented solutions
  • Activating alliances of local organizations to implement these solutions
  • Working with residents to drive state-level change 
  • Evaluating the short- and long-term impacts of our efforts so that we can improve our methods of engagement and outreach

Our Work in Detroit

  • Detroit’s energy usage derived from renewable energy sources was only at 3%, far from the City’s goal of 35%. DWEJ has been involved in multiple activities to help the city improve this figure.
  • We worked with the City Council, its Climate Change Subcommittee, and our coalition of partners to create a climate ordinance for the city. This resulted in the passage of Detroit’s first greenhouse gas ordinance on July 24, 2019, aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions in the city by 30% in the next 5 years. 
  • We have been trying to remove zoning roadblocks
  • We participated in the coalition that worked on what would happen after the shutdown of the Detroit Incinerator.
  • We are advocating for environmental justice equity at state energy tables and continuing conversations with local and state elected officials
  • Finally, in our citywide engagement role for the Detroit Sustainability Action Agenda, DWEJ is ensuring that the City takes action on the energy-related commitments in the Agenda. 

Our Work in Grand Rapids

  • DWEJ strengthened and deepened our partnership ties through our continued involvement
  • We co-hosted a renewable energy town hall with the Michigan League of Conservation Voters and other local groups where Consumers Energy, the Michigan Public Service Commission, and State Senators were on the panel. Our allies in the Grand Rapids Environmental Justice Coalition expressed increasing interest in advocacy and building the environmental literacy of elected officials, and our connections were vital for the hosted town hall on renewable energy.
  • We published the Neighborhood Environmental Action Report in conjunction with LINC UP
  • We have been asked to continue working with local groups as an organizer for environmental justice issues and energy issues

Our Work in Flint

Flint has been, and will continue to be, consumed by water issues. Bringing energy into the conversation took time given what they face. Our partners, however, feel as strongly as we do that energy policy/infrastructure is one of the next pressing issue areas for the city.

  • DWEJ has become a core team member of the monthly Sierra Club Environmental Justice Chapter-hosted calls and meetings
  • We hosted a successful fireside chat in which the mayor, local activists, and State Senator Jim Ananich’s office participated
  • Established and deepened relationships with residents by meeting them in their communities

Our Ongoing Goals 

We have been working hard to build stronger relationships, to meet people where they live, and respond to their needs.  

Our goals remain to: 

  • Expand our grassroots reach in Detroit by focusing on policy opportunities that emphasize equity, environmental justice, climate change, and clean energy solutions
  • Our Community Engagement Coordinator is currently working in collaboration with the Detroit 2030 District and the Renewable Energy Committee of the Detroit City Council’s Green Taskforce to help both entities with their outreach efforts throughout the City of Detroit to promote building energy efficiency and solar energy. 
  • Broaden our audience as much as possible
  • Strengthen networks in Detroit by bringing people together around common causes
  • Elevate voices in the community through our social media channels and storytelling tools

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