1 big thing: Rev. Jesse Jackson’s pipeline push
Breaking from other progressives, Rev. Jesse Jackson is calling to build a natural gas pipeline to serve an impoverished community near Chicago.
Why it matters: This is one example of the complex tug of war between energy affordability and tackling climate change. The tension is poised to grow as America and much of the world careen into pandemic-fueled recessions.
Driving the news: The move puts Jackson at odds with some Democrats and environmentalists who oppose fossil fuels because they drive climate change. The famous civil rights activist says the largely black community is being unfairly cut off from affordable energy.
The intrigue: For several months Jackson has been working with local, state and federal officials in Illinois to get an $8.2 million, 30-mile natural gas pipeline built for a community in a rural part of Illinois 65 miles south of Chicago.
- Jackson, who has protested with environmentalists to oppose the Dakota Access oil pipeline, told me in a February interview: “I really do support the environmental movement.”
- However, he said, the people of this community — called Pembroke — have no gas at all and are paying exorbitantly high prices to heat their homes with propane.
- “When we move to another form of energy, that’s fine by me, I support that,” Jackson said. “But in the meantime, you cannot put the black farmers on hold until that day comes.”
Where it stands: The area has about 400 homes, no manufacturing and only a few commercial establishments, said Mark Hodge, mayor of Hopkins Park, a town in the region.
- The community is 80% black and has an average annual income of less than $15,000, Hodge said. That’s compared to more than $60,000 nationally.
- The region, due at least partly to its rural setting, has never had access to natural gas.
While natural gas is cheaper per unit of energy compared to other forms, the upfront cost is typically a deal-breaker in rural areas not already connected to a pipeline network — regardless of the income level and race of people living there.
By the numbers: Under current regulations, customers seeking natural gas access often have to pay for at least part of the cost of getting that service.
- This would end up costing each Pembroke household on average $8,125 to be connected to natural gas.
- “This is why propane is viable,” said Warren Wilczewski, an expert at the Energy Information Administration.
What we’re watching: A bill pending in the state legislature would designate Pembroke as a “designated hardship area,” which would allow a company (in this case Nicor) to pay for the entire cost of the pipeline, not just part of it.
- Nicor would increase electricity rates throughout its service area to cover costs. With 2.2 million customers in the region, that’d equal about a penny a month, a Nicor spokesperson says.
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