By Tiffany Taulton
Hazelwood took another step toward telling the world what it wants its future to look like when community members made their desire for clean air and energy justice known in Washington, DC, in August.
Dr. Shalanda Baker, Director of the Office of Economic Impact and Diversity, and her energy justice team at the Department of Energy invited community groups to meet in response to a letter written by North Braddock Residents for Our Future. The group of Mon Valley residents had responded to the department’s request for information from environmental justice communities that may be affected by plans to develop regional clean hydrogen hubs, also known as H2Hubs.
Residents of Braddock and Clairton, and members of Arts Excursions Unlimited, Center of Life’s Social Justice Resource Center, Hazelwood Initiative and North Braddock Residents for Our Future accepted the invitation.
We wanted to present a united front of concerned Mon Valley residents and make sure leaders in Washington understand the challenges our communities are facing. We shared our fears that increased environmental destruction could further harm the health of our families and neighbors.
Developing clean hydrogen to carry, store or deliver energy is seen as critical to cutting carbon emissions from industries like steel and concrete, and meeting the Biden administration’s climate goals.
But not all hydrogen is produced the same way. It may be made using renewable, nuclear or fossil fuel energy. In Appalachia, hydrogen will likely be produced using natural gas. But if the resulting carbon emissions are not captured, hydrogen production will make pollution worse, not better. Large-scale carbon capture and storage has yet to be successful, so environmental groups are concerned that hydrogen production in Pennsylvania will further harm vulnerable communities.
The many environmental justice communities of the Mon Valley region are still dealing with the consequences of toxic industrial production: high rates of asthma, and contaminated water and soil. And, of course, the decades of economic hardship after these industries left. These same communities will be most affected by hydrogen hubs built on former industrial sites.
We want to make sure hydrogen production facilities are required to capture carbon emissions. Companies with a history of polluting need to clean up contaminated sites before receiving federal dollars to join the H2Hubs projects. And our communities must receive immediate benefits from the creation of H2Hubs, not promises for future benefits that may not materialize. We specifically requested benefits beyond jobs in H2Hubs: infrastructure improvements, affordable housing, small business support and afterschool programs for youth.
The Energy Department officials listened respectfully and said the H2Hubs would meet those goals if we continue to participate in the process. They also promised to visit our community. In September, they brought a large contingent to tour the region.
We look forward to more conversations and making sure people in Washington understand the impacts of their decisions on our community, and to let them know what kind of future we want for Greater Hazelwood and the Mon Valley.
Tiffany Taulton is the director of outreach and sustainability for Hazelwood Initiative, a Hazelwood resident and Pittsburgh native.