Delaware’s faith leaders and churches came together to talk about environmental justice and ensuring equality in access to the state’s natural resources this week, and to discuss reducing pollution or climate impacts on lower-income or disadvantaged communities in the area.
Climate Conversations was started four years ago by Energize Delaware to help people become climate-resilient and energy-efficient at their homes and in their businesses.
Some help is on the way to meet these environmental-justice imbalances. Delaware communities adversely affected by environmental pollution can now apply for Community Environmental Project Fund (CEPF) restoration grants for the 2023 grant cycle through DNREC.
The CEPF was created by the Delaware General Assembly through legislation that authorized DNREC to establish a grant fund by withholding 25 percent of funds collected as impact penalties for violations of environmental regulations. The funds are returned to the communities where violations occurred through competitive grants to nonprofit organizations in support of community environmental projects.
Grants are available to affected communities to fund restoration projects that result in reduced pollution, enhanced natural resources in those areas and enhanced recreational opportunities for families impacted by pollution and environmental damage.
One area south of Seaford where there are concerns about the local health impact of pollution is near the Bioenergy Development Company’s biogas plant — which received Sussex County zoning approval last spring. The $60 million plant is expected to use digesters to turn chicken manure into methane and sell the raw material for natural gas to Maryland’s Chesapeake Utilities. A coalition against biogas has recently been formed — mainly because of the truck traffic involved, which they say harms lower-income communities. DNREC will host an informational meeting on the new plant on Sept. 28 at 6 p.m.
Detailed information about the virtual workshop, the biogas project and community resources are available at de.gov/biodevco.
The Coalition against Biogas will protest the plant location after that first hearing and is also opposed to natural gas as a fossil fuel — though renewable natural gas is looked upon more favorably than drilling gas wells. The second DNREC public workshop will be hosted Oct. 26.
“The Interfaith Power & Light in Delaware will be organizing around this issue to speak against this biogas facility to be built so close to the Hispanic community in Seaford,” said Shweta Arya, the Del-IPL executive director. “Bioenergy will truck poultry waste from a tri-state area, with 20,000 trucks passing the neighborhood area every year, creating tons of air pollution. DNREC looks too partial about giving in to the biogas company permits,” even before the Sept. 28 public hearing, she said.
“Climate and democracy are interconnected, and everyone needs to participate in both,” said Mike Kennedy of Interfaith Power & Light. “We want to ensure a livable planet for our children. We can make a difference and are trying to create more voter turnout by faith.”
Millions care about climate and justice but may not be ready or registered to vote, said Kennedy.
DNREC recently did a survey that noted that 70 percent of Delawareans are concerned about climate change in the state, including support for policies to protect the shoreline and reduce impacts of sea-level rise.
Recognizing the need to understand the public’s attitudes about climate change, DNREC commissioned a survey aimed at gauging how Delawareans perceive climate change and sea-level rise, as well as how strongly they support implementing actions to reduce climate change and address sea-level rise in Delaware. The survey was supervised by Paul Brewer, research director at the University of Delaware.
The survey found that about three-fourths (77 percent) of Delawareans are completely or mostly convinced that climate change is happening, and almost as many (71 percent) are completely or mostly convinced that sea-level rise is happening now. A full 70 percent agreed that Delaware should take immediate action to reduce the impacts of climate change, and 64 percent said they can or will personally take action to do so.
Almost two-thirds (63 percent) also said that the state should take immediate action to reduce the impacts of sea-level rise. A majority (56 percent) said they have personally experienced or observed local impacts of climate change.
CEPF grants from DNREC are available to IRS tax-exempt organizations in amounts up to $25,000. Such groups include civic and community organizations, educational institutions, counties, municipal governments or state agencies.
During the Delaware Interfaith Power & Light seminar, Meera Devotta of the Delaware branch of the ACLU said that people should be passionate about climate change. Asian Americans are under-represented in the cadre of Delaware elected officials, said Devotta, an Indian American.
“It’s easy to give in to a narrative of shaming people or further isolating communities. We must rephrase what we think of about representation. Like, ‘Is there a lack of accessible information?’ or ‘Does the political process address items you are caring about?’ You can bring people into the fold.”
“In Delaware, we don’t see voter-suppression efforts, and our polling places are open,” said Devotta. “However, the State does make voting difficult here, with early deadlines or even arbitrary registration deadlines. Voter registration deadlines are harsh, and new changes will help.”
“Same-day registration is now going to be possible in the early voting period, and even on election day,” said Devotta. “Delaware does not have a photo-identification law, so you can make do with a utility bill or something with your address,” noted the ACLU representative.