It’s standard operating procedure in politics these days to deride bold policy reform as “pie-in-the-sky,” or a “pipe-dream.” This requires a willful ignorance of the fact that visionary policy, driven and shaped by grassroot movements, has always been the engine that moves our democracy forward. We have an opportunity on the table, here in New Orleans, to pass such a policy: the Resilient and Renewable Portfolio Standard (R-RPS).
The R-RPS is a detailed, thoroughly researched and well thought-out policy proposal that the Energy Future New Orleans Coalition (EFNO) has submitted to the New Orleans City Council. It paves the way for New Orleans to run on 100 percent renewable energy by the year 2040. This involves requiring utility companies to participate in the renewable transition, weaning our state off a reliance on fossil fuels, and providing opportunities and incentives for New Orleanians to generate and own the energy they use.
Yes, that means if you are a shareholder in a fossil fuel company, you may want to look for another place to invest. Yes, if you are a CEO in one of those companies, you might have to apply for a new job or enjoy an early retirement. And yes, if you are an energy monopoly, this means you will have to welcome competition and be required to find a way of offering what many residents truly want: agency over how their energy is used.
But no matter who you are or what you do, it does not mean you will lose your ability to live a good life. The R-RPS is the kind of policy that enhances that ability. It provides an infrastructure of support for workers, in the fossil fuel industry for example, who might be afraid of losing their jobs or being left behind. Crucially, it centers the communities who have long been subjected to environmental injustice and ensures that this system of injustice will not continue to perpetuate itself moving forward. That means, for example, that a gas plant in New Orleans East is not a part of the plan.
So often, in broader discussions about where we want our community to be in the future, we get bogged down and paralyzed by political toxicity. It skews how we discuss plans for a better, more unified way forward, and makes it difficult to see the common ground we share. No doubt there will be those who argue the R-RPS is a piece of government overregulation that inhibits economic growth. No doubt there will be those who argue the R-RPS places too much emphasis on a market-based solution, when markets themselves are at the root of many of our economic and environmental problems.
But I put forth that it is the balance that the R-RPS strikes between these two extremes that serves as a model for a better way. We can and must move immediately away from an industry that is destroying our city, our state, and our world. Regulation has always been part of a fair and competitive market, and it’s high time we do away with the dangerous myth that this isn’t the case. At the same time, we can use policy like the R-RPS to drive social change that prioritizes consideration for others and our shared future: a policy that both empowers individuals and strengthens communities, without one happening at the expense of the other.
At a time in our country when it seems like we could not be more divided, we need ideas that bring us together, moving us forward in a spirit of unity and hope. The R-RPS is such an idea, and I trust the City Council will do the right thing and pass it unanimously on Thursday. This is an opportunity that can empower us all, regardless of our current divisions, to have an energy system that we can be a part of.
I cannot encourage you highly enough to support the R-RPS and to join New Orleanians in doing what we do best: celebrating life.
Benjamin Nugent-Peterson is a community organizer with Extinction Rebellion New Orleans, CADA (the Coalition Against Death Alley), and Justice and Beyond.
The Opinion section is a community forum. Views expressed are not necessarily those of The Lens or its staff. To propose an idea for a column, contact Engagement Editor Tom Wright at email@example.com.