None of us can afford climate change, but the costs are even higher for Black and Brown people and communities, especially for those who can’t afford heating or cooling.
As the planet gets hotter, we must address climate change while also making sure that people can afford to keep their homes comfortable. It’s not too late, but if we don’t act soon, we will pay one way or another. Bishop Dwayne Royster and Kintéshia Scott explain why environment vs. energy affordability is a false narrative, how systems of injustice are interconnected, and what we must do to make sure no one gets left behind in the transition to renewable energy.
Bishop Dwayne Royster (@ddroyster) is the Executive Director of POWER, an interfaith coalition of activists, organizers and community advocates in Pennsylvania in their commitment to racial and economic justice on a livable planet. As a pastor, political activist, and radio show host, Bishop Royster’s work is fueled by deep faith and passionate commitment to bringing about social justice.
Kintéshia Scott (@KinteshiaScott) is a Staff Attorney in the Energy Unit at Community Legal Services. Kintéshia advocates for low-income Philadelphians to have access to affordable water, heat, and electricity in their homes through direct legal representation and policy advocacy.
If you enjoy this show and want to help fight poverty and injustice, consider making a donation to Community Legal Services today! You can also follow us on Twitter @CLSphila to stay connected.
How Is That Legal is a podcast from Community Legal Services of Philadelphia and Rowhome Productions. Jake Nussbaum is our Producer and Editor. Executive Producers are Alex Lewis and John Myers. Special thanks to Caitlin Nagel, Zakya Hall, and Molly Pollak. Music provided by Blue Dot Sessions.Support the show
Kee Tobar (00:05):
Hello, everyone. Welcome to How Is That Legal? The podcast where we break down examples of systemic racial inequity in the law and policy and talk to experts whose stories of injustice will make you ask, "How in the world is that legal?" My name is Kee Tobar. I'm a legal aid attorney, history enthusiast, and chief equity and inclusion officer at Community Legal Services of Philadelphia. Today, we're talking to environmental justice policy and the law with two amazing guests, a Community Legal Services of Philadelphia energy attorney, Kintéshia Scott and Bishop Dwayne D. Royster, a community organizer and the executive director of Power, an interfaith multiracial grassroots organization. Both of these guests bring such important perspectives on climate change, air and water quality and environmental sustainability. They have particular expertise in discussing how Black and Brown communities in Philadelphia are disproportionately impacted by our rapidly changing natural environment.
Kee Tobar (01:00):
As an energy attorney at Community Legal Services, Kintéshia Scott advocates for low-income Philadelphians to have access to affordable water, heat and electricity in their homes through direct legal representation and policy advocacy. She also serves on Philadelphia's first Environmental Justice Advisory Commission. As the executive director of Power, Bishop Dwayne D. Royster leads the interfaith coalition of activists, organizers and community advocates in Pennsylvania in their commitment to racial and economic justice on a livable planet. He has served in pastoral ministry for the past 26 years. Together, we discussed the intersections of environmental and racial justice, including the structural inequities of utility policy, the relationship between gun violence and rising temperatures and the adverse impact climate change has on Black and Brown communities. I found this to be a fascinating and urgent conversation, and I'm excited to share it with you. Welcome, attorney Kintéshia Scott and Bishop Dwayne Royster. I'm excited to have both of you on the show. Kintéshia, I know you from being a colleague at Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, but can you introduce yourself to the audience, share some of your background, same thing for Bishop Royster?
Kintéshia Scott (02:21):
Absolutely. Just a little bit about me, my name is Kintéshia Scott. I'm an attorney in the energy unit here at Community Legal Services where I do advocacy to ensure that Philadelphia households have access to affordable water, heat and electricity in their homes. More broadly about me, I have a background in energy and environmental work. Prior to moving to Philly and working at CLS, I worked at an environmental firm in the South doing similar work, but more environmentally-centered work. Additionally, I also have a master's in energy regulation, bachelor of science and environmental science, so energy environment has really always been my life, and I really love working in this space. I often see Bishop Royster at a number of events, so I'll turn it over to Bishop Royster to introduce himself.
Bishop Dwayne D. Royster (03:19):
I just want to start off and say, first of all, I'm just a kid from Philly. I was born in Germantown. I was raised in East Mount Airy. I bought my first house in West Philadelphia. I graduated from Abraham Lincoln High School, got my undergraduate degree from the Center for Urban Theological Studies, which was in Hunting Park. It's a division of Geneva College. Then I got my master's degree at Lutheran Theological Seminary up on Germantown Avenue in West Mount Airy/Chestnut hill area. I'm just a kid from Philly that loves this city and wants to be able to see it thrive, but I also serve as the executive director of Power Interfaith, which is the state of Pennsylvania's largest faith-based organizing movement.
Bishop Dwayne D. Royster (04:01):
We are a broad-based organizing movement of people working towards racial and economic justice on a livable planet. We are Christian, Jewish, Muslim. We are Sikh. We are Hindu. We are ethical humanist. We are Unitarian Universalists and members of society of friends that are a part of our organization. We're Black, we're white, we're Latin X. We are Asian Pacific Islander. We are Indigenous, we're biracial, we're Jewish. We come from a multiple different places and locations spaces. We are rich and some of us are poor. We come from every aspect of Philadelphia, and now, Power has grown to begin spreading out across the state of Pennsylvania. So we're in areas like Allentown and Lancaster and Bucks County and the metro counties around Philadelphia, and we are looking to grow.
Kee Tobar (04:56):
Awesome. Thank you both so much. At a time when climate change and the impact of environmental policies on marginalized communities are so vital and are such vital issues, I'm excited to have both of you with your vast knowledge and viewpoints and experiences on the show. So speaking of experiences, so the name of this show is, How Is That Legal? Is there a specific instance, and I want both of you to answer this question, is there a specific instance maybe earlier in your life as a young attorney and advocate where you researched or experienced or had some type of interaction with a discriminatory policy that shocked you and made you ask yourself, "How is that legal?"
Bishop Dwayne D. Royster (05:39):
I'm trying to think about which experience to go with.
Kee Tobar (05:46):
I understand that.
Bishop Dwayne D. Royster (05:48):
Yeah. This is a story I told actually, testified on Friday before hearing, and I think Ms. Scott was there as well. When I talked about the story about when I bought my first house at the age of 25 in West Philadelphia. I lived on Wyalusing Avenue, 57th and Wyalusing in West Philadelphia, and I was so excited. I bought this house, two-and-a-half story. It had five bedrooms, three bathrooms. It's a row house, though, just be mindful that it's a row house. I was a young preacher, I wasn't really making a huge sum of money. Literally my house was across the street from the congregation I was serving at the time. Camphor Memorial United Methodist Church. That winter came and I got my first gas bill, my first regular, the winter gas bill, not the summer gas bill, but the winter gas bill. There's a difference between the two and everybody who uses PGW or has utilities understand there's a difference between the two.
Bishop Dwayne D. Royster (06:52):
I got that first gas bill and it was $800, and this is 1995. This is not last year, this is 1995. That really created a snowball effect on me and my family. I called to get some help from the electric company, and there wasn't really a lot of help there. It caused some challenges over several years because, of course, each month, the bill snowballed and snowballed and snowballed. At some point, you just want to stop and ask yourself, "Is that legal that we can treat people like that in the midst of a winter, that we can constantly be threatening to shut off their utilities, put them and their families at risk?" The houses, they're old, and we want to be able to maintain those great houses in Philadelphia, but that was a real problem. I always had a question, was that legal? That's one of my stories. I had a bunch of other ones with the Philadelphia Police Department, but we'll save that for another day.
Kee Tobar (07:58):
I'm going to follow up with regard to your story, but I'm interested in hearing Kintéshia's point.
Kintéshia Scott (08:05):
Just thinking about something that makes me think, "How is that legal?" Well, there's a particular city policy that is legal and I'm still like, "How is this legal?" So when I moved to Philadelphia for this job, I think as I was getting acclimated to the work, one of the things that shocked me is about how water debt in the City of Philadelphia runs with the property and that someone, if they have enough water debt accumulated, they can lose their home to a sheriff's sale. Now for me, my personal philosophy is, water is a human right. I think the UN agrees with me, but our policies don't necessarily reflect that. When you think about policies that have discriminatory or disparate impacts on certain populations, when you think of the lack of affordability of water and how water debt accumulates in the city it tracks with some of the other issues of poverty.
Kintéshia Scott (09:11):
We see that Black and Brown, Latinx communities are the ones who are disproportionately impacted. Then on top of that, we see in Philadelphia that it's a city with a large number of low-income homeowners and also, a large number of homes that have tangled title issues. So when I say tangled title, it means a grandparent or someone down the line may have passed away. They didn't have a will, someone moved in the home, never got the deed transferred to someone else's name, so it's just run through the family. But that creates an issue where if there's an affordability program in the city, if your name isn't on the bill for the water account, then you can't have access to some of these services as a water department customer.
Kintéshia Scott (10:04):
So you see families, in the past, losing their homes as they have 20, 30, $40,000 water debt that has passed on from generation to generation. Fortunately, through some advocacy in the past, a decade or so by some of my colleagues at CLS and some council members, they were able to come up with a water department affordability program that aims to address some of these issues where people can have forgiveness of water debt, and the water bill is based on their income monthly. But that was a major concern, not even a decade ago that people were losing their homes just for water debt, so that's still something to me that just baffles me. I'm happy that the City is taking steps to address this issue, but for me, losing, losing your home over a water bill is unfathomable and my heart is with those who have had to experience this in the past.
Kee Tobar (11:08):
Climate is a major issue, and this question is actually for you, Bishop Royster. I was researching you and listening to one of your conversations on WURD, and I heard you make a hot take with regard to the prioritization of climate change and it being probably one of the most important issues in Philadelphia. I'd love for you to elaborate on that, if you may.
Bishop Dwayne D. Royster (11:38):
Sure, thank you for that. I think when we think about climate and when we think about environment, we need to understand that these are all a part of a very interconnected system. I think a lot of times we will try to make it like, "Oh, environment and climate is that white thing over there," and not recognize that it actually has deep impact on our communities as well. As a person who grew up with asthma in the city of Philadelphia, environmental conditions are very critical to what happens in our state. You could probably hear it now, my allergies are acting up, and so it's triggering something for me, even at this moment in time as we're talking right now. So we need to have a really deep understanding that first of all, the planet is a finite resource. It has a capability of being infinite, but the way we're using it, it's very finite. The way we're stripping coal, the way that we're dealing with fracked gas, the way we're dealing with oil actually has a deep implication and puts a time limit on the planet as we understand it.
Bishop Dwayne D. Royster (12:48):
When we actually have other resources that are available to us right now that are absolutely renewable, like solar, like wind, like geothermal energy in other forms of energy that we're actually able to derive the power that we need in those spaces. But we choose to use oil, gas, other resources that are not renewable and poisoning the planet, which is actually poisoning us right where we are. When we think about all the congestion in Philadelphia, all the folk living next to each other, smog, all the cars, that actually has a deep impact on our community, our well-being, our way of being. When we look at the city of Philadelphia, when we are trying to figure out what's happening, this sense of this noxious fumes, the fact that we can't walk down the street without fear of getting hit by a car, because there's so many cars that are moving around, it creates a level of anxiety.
Bishop Dwayne D. Royster (13:52):
Also, I think tied to all the other issues around violence, around housing, around education, around economic stability in our community creates this deep sense of hopelessness. If I can't get up in the morning and breathe fresh air, if I can't get up in the morning and see the sun because of the pollution in the air, if I can't walk down the street and see trees growing and see green grass, then there's a sense to which there's a level of hopelessness, that we're just living in a concrete jungle, and Philadelphia is not a concrete jungle. There are plenty of spaces and green spaces that need to be developed or redeveloped where people are actually able to live and grow. So I think we have a tendency to say, "Oh, that the main concern is gun violence," or, "The main concern is housing." No, actually climate, because if we don't have a planet to live on, there's no place for any of us to go. There's really no place for any of us to go.
Kee Tobar (14:52):
I hear that. When I heard you say it on the radio, I was like that, "That's a really important take. That's a really important take that if we don't have a planet to go to, that takes priority over all the things." Also, I was doing some research with regard to spatial discrimination, architectural discrimination and how, like you say, when you don't have trees and it's just a concrete jungle, how that actually affects violence. Also, you said that you went to college, you went to seminary in what neighborhood?
Bishop Dwayne D. Royster (15:27):
Oh, Hunting Park where I did my-
Kee Tobar (15:34):
Bishop Dwayne D. Royster (15:35):
... undergraduate degree at the Center for Urban Theological Studies, which was literally at Hunting Park and I'm trying to think of the name of the street. That's right before you get to the Roosevelt Boulevard next to Hunting Park itself, the actual park. I finished my undergraduate degree there.
Kee Tobar (15:50):
Great. I was doing the research and I was listening to the interview too, and they were saying that Hunting Park is 22 degrees hotter than other parts of the city, and to think-
Bishop Dwayne D. Royster (16:02):
Yeah, I can believe it.
Kee Tobar (16:02):
... about what that means with regard to violence, what that also means with regard to utility bills if it's 22 degrees hotter in that space. So earlier, Bishop Royster, you were talking about dealings you said. So this question is actually for Kintéshia. What are the couple of the main energy policy choices by our government, local and otherwise, that affect our daily lives that you think the average person is unaware of but should be aware of. So what are some of those dealings, Kintéshia?
Kintéshia Scott (16:37):
I think that's a hard question for me to answer. When I think about climate change and environmental policies, I think on many levels, I think internationally, climate change is a very pressing issue. Nationally, climate change is a very pressing issue. In the Northeast, it's a pressing issue. In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, it's a pressing issue. In Philadelphia, it's a pressing issue. In Hunting Park, it's a pressing issue, so it's hard for me, I think. I get overwhelmed, honestly, thinking about the various policies that impact us. I think my personal philosophy is to try to think about the things that I could work towards and impact. I think that's mostly local and state policy, and I think when we think about the city of Philadelphia, right now, the city has a goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050. What does that mean for this city? That means buildings and cars and housing stock, and our sources of energy, as Bishop Royster has said, whether we're using renewable energies or fossil fuels, how are we going to meet that obligation?
Kintéshia Scott (18:03):
As many of you have heard, there are different things that scientists have said, saying that we have to take major action, whether it be by 2030, 2040, 2050, but I think that engaging on a local and state level, engaging with your council members, engaging with your representatives about legislation, that can advance the goal of addressing climate change and also addressing the populations that are going to be most impacted by climate change, which is Black and Brown communities, low-income communities. We've seen the impacts of climate change over just the past year in Philadelphia where the Vine Street Expressway was under 20 feet of water, where there are a number of businesses and homes that were under water along the Schuylkill, and that also goes to green infrastructure. Having trees actually is very important because they absorb water and they also create clean oxygen.
Kintéshia Scott (19:25):
Then, just the different zoning and housing policies that might be in place, having affordable housing so that we can limit the impacts of urban sprawl and having communities more closely together. I think there are just a number of different issues to really keep your eye on and be engaged on. Especially in the city of Philadelphia, we have major elections coming up, and that is a place where I do encourage anyone to just engage with politicians about what their stances are, because I think we're at a place where we can no longer drag our feet on climate change, we have to act. It's just a matter of who's actually going to do it. This goes to another point that I was going to make about how interrelated everything is, kind of touched on it, but basically everything is related as it comes to climate change and all of these different policies. I just think it's just very important that we all engage in our communities and with our representatives to make strides towards a better cleaner environment and future.
Kee Tobar (20:45):
I'd like to elaborate more on this. One of the goals and purposes that at least I see for this podcast is to really give people information and to be in conversation and to make that information accessible and practical for them and to their lives. So with regard to us saying that all these things are interconnected and related, can you give clear examples of the connectedness of this? I know, Bishop Royster, you actually were talking about it very early on in a conversation as it relates to utilities and housing, so if we could just very clearly specifically draw those connections, that will be helpful.
Bishop Dwayne D. Royster (21:31):
Yeah. Actually, we had a town hall meeting with what we call our Live Free Team, which is working on police accountability and gun violence and others not too long ago. In the course of that town hall meeting that we had, and we had folks from around the country that joined us for that, one of the things that we began to explain, and I talked about this bigger notion about how all these things fit together and around the issue of gun violence and how climate even plays into that, and our environment plays into that. Dr. Cornell West, who used to be at Harvard and Princeton, and now at Union Theological Seminary, who's a philosopher of religion, wrote a book called Prophesy Deliverance! some years ago, and it was about Philadelphia. He talked about this pervasive sense of nihilism that exists in the city of Philadelphia, this generational hopelessness that exists in the city of Philadelphia.
Bishop Dwayne D. Royster (22:32):
So Philadelphia is the poorest big city in America, so out of the 10 big cities in this country, and we are number six in terms of size, we are actually the poorest of the 10 big cities in the country, deep poverty, generational poverty. Part of the issue around poverty in Philadelphia has to do with housing and the red lining that took place in the 20th century for Black folk being able to move into other neighborhoods inside the city of Philadelphia. They were red lined, prevented from buying homes. So Black folk and Brown folk, for the most part, were stuck in certain neighborhoods. When they went into those neighborhoods, there then became a disinvestment on the part of state, local and federal government to actually make investments to infrastructure and services in those communities. When you look at the schools in those communities, they're not the best schools.
Bishop Dwayne D. Royster (23:32):
When you look at the infrastructure in terms of just buildings, buildings are old, they're not upkept, so forth. When you look at those communities in terms of policing, they are over-policed. When you take a look at the density of those communities, there's some of the densest communities that we have in the city of Philadelphia. When you look at the housing stability, there's an issue around housing stability that exists in all those places. Oh, but when you also go back and take a look at the environmental conditions of those communities, some of those communities are in old refining manufacturing areas where we still have plants that are decaying, that we're using materials from long ago. There has been a lack of investment in terms of green infrastructure in those communities as well.
Bishop Dwayne D. Royster (24:19):
What this does is that it builds this deep sense of hopelessness in people. What happens is people begin to say, "I don't matter, and that nobody cares about me. Nobody sees me. Nobody cares about my future. Nobody cares about my identity. Nobody cares about the fact that I am here because nobody's willing to make an investment in me." So when you grow up with that mentality that nobody cares whether you are in a house with lead-based paint, or whether you are drinking water out of a system that might produce clean water or not clean water for you, when you have all these challenges, when all you see is police officers scanning your street and lights flashing in the middle of the night, and you hear gunshots firing off it's because people get this sense of hopelessness.
Bishop Dwayne D. Royster (25:08):
So there's this deep sense of hopelessness that all these systems and conditions are manifesting themselves in that have created an incendiary environment in many of our neighborhoods that is not conducive for our young folk, so they're angry and they're hurt because they have not been seen, not been heard, not regarded and not valued as human beings in this society. So for me, that's all of this is playing in that and especially environmental conditions, because then we're told that those are white folks issues, not Black folks issues, and that they shouldn't be a concern to you, but they are because we have high levels of diabetes. We have high levels of hypertension. We have high levels of asthma that are manifesting in our communities, and some of these are all related to the environments that we are living in and the communities that we're growing our children in, and that causes problems for us all.
Kee Tobar (26:05):
Thank you for that, Bishop Royster. There was a question in there I was going to ask how environmental issues have obtained these race and class distinctions and how that association of those connections actually have come about. But there's a question I have with regard to the civil legal side of things in those connections, because I heard Bishop Royster talking about what it does to the internal person. But I'm thinking about how when you have weatherization issues, these homes and the stock and homes in Philadelphia are old.
Kee Tobar (26:51):
So then you have high utility bills, because the stock is not energy-efficient. But then we have high utility bills and then you get behind how that affects things like the child welfare, like possibilities because then you could possibly get neglect cases when your bills are cut off, when your utilities are cut off, when you have no water or you have no energy or you have no gas in the home, then someone could call DHS on you, and then now you have a neglect case. So those are the connections that I'm making, Kintéshia. Are there any other connections that you can think about as it relates to the civil legal side of that?
Kintéshia Scott (27:35):
Well, I think you said it, Kee. When we think about the choices that people have to make on a day-to-day basis, utility bills are high. They're high for everyone, but for some people, that means foregoing medicine and that means not eating as you would. That means, "I can do without this utility for this period of time, as long as I have these other utilities on." I think it leads to just these choices that families and households have to make just to get by, and I think it's unacceptable. My personal philosophy, everyone should have access to affordable water gas and electric service. I think they should have them all the time. When you made a great connection about how utility bills, they very much do impact the child custody of minors in this case. People's children get taken away from them if they don't have utilities, and those are some of the cases that we see at CLS where we get a referral, "Can you help someone get their electricity or gas back on so that their child can come home?"
Kintéshia Scott (29:00):
We also see as far as weatherization issues, yes, Philadelphia has the oldest housing stock in the country and it doesn't matter if your house is leaking air, leaking heat all the time, your electricity and gas bills are going to be through the roof no matter what you try to do to stop it. Well, the lack of availability of resources for homeowners and tenants in the city who, if they just had more efficient homes, their utility bills would go down. I think people underestimate the value of weatherization. I think weatherization should be a priority in the city, because it can actually have a very large financial impact on those who do measure out month-to-month how much they can afford to pay towards certain bills. So I think you made that connection pretty well, Kee. I don't really have much to say on top of that. I just think when we think about housing issues and home ownership issues, always thinking about utility issues, because you can't live in the house without utilities, not safely at least.
Kee Tobar (30:22):
Got it. What I am hearing both of you say how you both have reiterated it a couple of times actually is with regard to energy, water affordability and the need for new environmental policies. When I was doing some research with regard to this, there seemed to be a tension between the two. I'd like for you all to discuss whether there is a tension, whether there has to be a tension and how we actually should be thinking about the issue of, these are the changes we have to make with regard to the environment, solar energy and so forth, and also making it affordable so that when we are making these changes that they don't inadvertently or unintentionally negatively harm people with less wealth in this country.
Bishop Dwayne D. Royster (31:16):
I think this question about affordability and environmental protection is a false narrative, and it has been a narrative that has been constructed by the oil and gas industry for the most part to try to justify their continuing use of oil and gas as a tool, as a energy vehicle for our country. The reality is, is that we are going to pay for this one way or the other, whether we're paying for it an environmental impact, or whether we're going to pay for it and putting out infrastructure. The infrastructure in Philadelphia for both PECO Energy and PGW and for the water department for that matter is old, it's all old, it's just old. So when we begin to think about building new infrastructure and we're going to have to build new infrastructure in many of these circumstances, we need to incorporate non-fossil fuel energy sources, renewable energy sources into the mix to be able to solve that problem.
Bishop Dwayne D. Royster (32:23):
It's actually interesting, when we were testifying to this this past week on the PGW Diversification Study and the issue got brought up about gas and the fact that with the war happening in Ukraine right now that gas prices are up. people have backed off about, trying to go to renewables because we're opening land leases now across the country so that we can start doing more drilling for oil, to be able to create a sense of safety. A thought occurred to me that 10, 15 years ago, if the United States had made a significant investment in moving to renewables at that time, we would be in a situation right now where the fact that Russian oil is not coming into the rest of the world, or to the United States wouldn't even be a factor for us, because we would've already made that transition.
Bishop Dwayne D. Royster (33:16):
We would've created energy, safety and democracy in this country that would've benefited all of our citizens, not just a handful of folk that are at the top echelons of society, the elite of society. So I think we're making investments in infrastructure and issues all the time. We need to be making significant infrastructure investments in this new energy that's going to create new jobs and new opportunities. I think there are new jobs that are out there that are going to be living wage jobs with benefits, hopefully unions as well. I think that they're going to be creating new jobs that are going to have renewable resources for us to be able to use over and over again.
Bishop Dwayne D. Royster (33:52):
It's actually going to lessen the impact on our planet in terms of the destructive value of what's happening with oil and gas, and we are able to use solar wind, geothermal energy to be able to take care of our home. So in many ways, again, I go back, it's a false narrative. As one of our council people, love him, that said, "Oh, well, it should be okay now because now that we have Russia, we got to go to gas," and it's like, "No, this is a moment for us to wake up and recognize we can't live off of this, and we can't keep living like this. We've got to do better than this for our people and our citizens. We've got to give them a better way of being able to use energy, to get around, to be able to use energy in their homes, be able to use energy for their businesses and use energy for our community so we can all have not just decades, but centuries to come on this planet."
Kee Tobar (34:43):
Thank you. I love how you brought job production into the conversation of affordability, because I think that portion of it is often lost in the conversation. Kintéshia, did you have a point you wanted to make with regard to this?
Kintéshia Scott (34:57):
Yeah. I think as a legal services attorney, my concern is making sure that the most vulnerable among us aren't left behind in this transition. When I'm thinking about how all of these things are interrelated and who can afford to make transitions and who cannot afford to make transitions, I'm constantly trying to balance that idea in my head. I agree 100% that we need to move to renewable energies. I think that with adequate investment, they could be affordable for everyone to transition to these renewable energies. We already subsidize the oil and gas energy industries, why can't we do the same for the renewable industry in the same way? I'm thinking from an equity perspective of energy and environment for some people, the very pressing issue, but they also have the means to afford to focus on that issue, that can be a priority for them.
Kintéshia Scott (36:21):
So for people who can afford to like Solarize their homes in a lot of states, they can sell that energy back to the utility company. A lot of people don't even have utility bills, but for those who can do that, they're stuck with fossil fuel energy and can't access these technologies because they're basically priced out. I think that there should just be more investment to allow if this is a priority for us and it should be, there needs to be more investment to allow everyone to transition and not leave anyone behind, because as some people transition, the ones who are left behind are going to be left with the rates and charges that have to be paid to these companies. So I think that's just my concern when I'm thinking about the balance between environmentalism and affording utility bills. It's a delicate balance that I feel like I'm constantly changing my own philosophy on as I practice in this space day-to-day.
Kee Tobar (37:29):
Got it. What I heard both of you discuss were adequate investments. Can someone specifically say what you mean by adequate investments?
Bishop Dwayne D. Royster (37:39):
Well, let me just go directly to a policy that's actually being debated right now. So Senator Nikil Saval from Philadelphia has actually put into the legislature a bill called the Whole-Home Repair Bill, which would use money that's left over from the COVID money that received from the federal government that's been sitting in a bank in the state capitol and use that not only for Philadelphia, but around the state for people to be able to make home repairs. It would be a grant program, not a loan program, grant program that would put a significant amount of money in certain homeowners homes to help upgrade, to help them get up the standard, to do weatherization and other programs like that.
Bishop Dwayne D. Royster (38:20):
A simple program like that, if we could extend it, I don't know if all of our legislature will allow this, but if we did a program that allowed us to put solar on homes, or allow people to tap into different forms of energy as a result of the whole home repair program, not just weatherization so that we can continue using the same fuels, but what if we were able to create, and this is Dwayne Royster talking, so just forgive me on this one, but what if we were actually able to create a network of solar on top of row home roofs around the city of Philadelphia, that could be an alternative network for people to be able to draw energy from? We were able to use the whole home repair bill, people would able to put solar on their houses to be able to imagine doing something like that.
Bishop Dwayne D. Royster (39:10):
It requires some level of imagination and some creativity and political will to be able to make that happen. But honestly, that's what we need right now to be able to do this work, and so we need that kind of investment. We need leaders that are going to step up and make that kind of investment and say, "Yes, this is the right move for our people. We want our people to be able to live well. We want them to be able to live safely. We want them to be able to live in such a way that their environmental issues are being addressed and that they're actually able to be at peace in their lives."
Kee Tobar (39:40):
Thank you. I have two questions before we end, and one of the questions is, regarding we know that climate change is a universal issue. It affects everyone, but as we've been discussing on this particular podcast, is that it affects some people more. There is disparity with regard to impact, and yet, I don't see necessarily climate change talked about from the race equity or racial justice lens outside of those like you and like Kintéshia who are constantly talking about this work. How do we make this climate change in environmentalism and weatherization and renewable resource energy accessible to the day-to-day person? I'm specifically asking you, Bishop Royster. As an organizer what are ways that we should be framing this or talking about this, and what are some obstacles that you've seen in organizing around this, or if there are any obstacles with regard to the framing of this conversation?
Bishop Dwayne D. Royster (40:46):
For a long time, the money that was going into climate and environmental organizations from foundations and other places was going specifically to white organizations, and who were not connected at the grassroots level were not connected to people of color in a deep way. So there was an agenda that was created that was not taking in consideration the lived condition of folk of color, poor white folk, including, and also Black and Brown folk in this country, and API and Indigenous folk. So there was a whole challenge with that. A lot of that is changing, and so we're really grateful for that. Part of some of the philanthropic community now is really forcing those big traditional environmental organizations to be in partnership and relationship with grassroot organizations of color to really be able to incorporate this conversation.
Bishop Dwayne D. Royster (41:34):
But here's part of what has to happen. So we get this big notion of climate, environmental issues being in this white space. Then we go to talk to Black and Brown folk, and they're like, "Eh, I ain't got nothing to do with that." Now, except that if you are Puerto Rican and your family's in Puerto Rico, that's having an impact on your island in terms of the number of severe hurricanes that are hitting that island, and so that's having an impact, so you begin to feel that a little bit. I think when we talk about environmental issues, I've talked to religious leaders and folk in congregations and congregations all across the state and people are like, "Yeah, that's not really a number one issue." Oh, how many people in your congregation have diabetes? Or how many children in your congregation suffer with asthma?
Bishop Dwayne D. Royster (42:20):
That's all related to environmental stuff. It's not just a precondition because you're Black or Brown that you're going to have these diseases, although, there's some of that there, but also the environmental conditions that you're in are having an impact on that as well when we begin to think about how the weather is impacting us. So when I was growing up, my mother used to talk about the vast swings in weather as pneumonia weather, but she would have a few days a year. This spring season, we go from the eighties to the thirties, stay in the thirties, go back up to the fifties, drop back down to the thirties, go to the eighties, nineties, we drop back down again into the twenties, this is all about climate. So you don't know how to dress your family. You don't know how to dress your kids. People are getting sick. All this stuff is a factor in terms of our own lives.
Bishop Dwayne D. Royster (43:11):
My uncle lives in Eastwick, so lives right off the back of the Wildlife Reserve that's out there in Tinicum Township, right on the border of Philadelphia. So when he bought the house, they were told that there were these once a 100-year floods that happen out there, and that Eastwood community is almost all-Black. It's almost all-Black folk out there. Since he's lived out there for the last 20 years, these 100-year floods have seemed to have come every three to four years, so that's a direct result of what's happening with the climate. So this stuff is actually impacting our community. People are losing their homes, they're losing value in their homes. They can't even sell their homes because of where they are at this point, because it's now considered a flood plain out there. That actually has impact on our economics. It has impact on our ability to be able to pass down houses generationally.
Bishop Dwayne D. Royster (44:00):
There's all these issues that are out there that are manifesting themselves. This is what power does, because we do grassroots community organizing, we're actually having these conversations with people, really asking the questions to them about climate. Actually, people are like, "Oh, climate doesn't bother me." But then by the time we finish a 15, 20-minute conversation, they're now looking and saying, "Oh, wait a minute. Climate is actually having an impact on my life," and so we're building a base of people, of Black and Brown folk in addition to white folk and of all different faith, traditions and communities that are now coming along and saying, "Wait a minute, this is a big issue for us."
Bishop Dwayne D. Royster (44:35):
It's a big issue for us at Power. We're an organization that's throughout the state, but deeply rooted in Philadelphia, but we're coming up and saying at the same time too, "This is impacting our communities, our congregations, our people, and we need to begin to organize and work around that." That's why we support Senator Saval's Whole-Home Repair Bill, because we know that housing affordability, housing accessibility, being able to pay your utility bill is tied to the condition of your home. We want to make sure that you are able to stay in your home, stay in your community, keep your value up, but we also know that when you live in a better home environment, you actually have more hope than you do hopelessness. So it's all tied together for us.
Bishop Dwayne D. Royster (45:14):
We have to build out a broad group of folk from around the city of Philadelphia who care deeply about this, understand the impact that it's also local. Look at the folk in South Philadelphia that we're concerned about the refinery that was out there. They all got together, these were Black folk, black folk and some white folk that were out there. They got together and fought against the Philadelphia Energy Solutions Refinery that was out there, because it was causing problems for them. We have to take a look and help people understand that all this stuff impacts us every single day, and that we've got to work hard to put that as a high part of our agenda in terms of justice and social change, because it impacts every aspect of our lives.
Kee Tobar (45:58):
Thank you, Bishop Royster. I really appreciate how you brought off the concept that some of these things that we take as genetic are not actually genetic, but have to do with the environment and the poor environmental causation on these things. The last part, I guess, I'll ask Kintéshia, because Bishop Royster was talking about what we got to do as it relates to grassroots organizing and meeting the individual person. Kintéshia what should we be thinking about and what do we have to do with regard to, as a community or as policy, as an institution?
Kintéshia Scott (46:34):
I think it's very important to be community informed. Community Legal Services has a framework where our individual cases and advocacy informs our larger policy advocacy. It's just very important for me as an advocate and others who are also in this space to make sure that the community voice is centered and we are informed by the community in whatever policy or advocacy that we're doing with these various agencies, whether it's city council or we're advocating for legislation on a state or national level.
Kintéshia Scott (47:19):
I think it's very easy for us as "experts" who work in the space and do this work to lose sight of the every day, the day-to-day experiences that individuals and people in Philadelphia are facing. But as long as we keep engaging with community organizations such as Power and the various organizations, Philadelphia has a lot of organizing power in the city. It's an incredible wealth of resources and dedication to a lot of people who just want to see this city move forward. So I think that as long as we engage and elevate those voices as much as we can in our work, that that's the best thing that an organization like Community Legal Services can do. It'll help us stay centered to our mission in the long run as well.
Kee Tobar (48:10):
Thank you both for this conversation and for spending this time. It's been informative for me and I just can't thank you enough for having this conversation and hopefully, it has also been informative for the audience.
Bishop Dwayne D. Royster (48:23):
Thanks for having us. I appreciate it.
Kintéshia Scott (48:26):
Bishop Dwayne D. Royster (48:32):
Thank you so much.
Kee Tobar (48:32):
That was my conversation with attorney Kintéshia Scott and Bishop Dwayne Royster. To learn more about Kintéshia's work, you can follow her on Twitter @Kintéshia Scott, that's @K-I-N-T-E-S-H-I-A S-C-O-T-T. To contact Community Legal Services Energy Unit, you can call 215-981-3700. Bishop Dwayne Royster can be found on Twitter @DDRoyster, that's D-D R-O-Y-S-T-E-R. To learn more about Power, you can visit their website at powerinterfaith.org. Email them at email@example.com, or call them at 215-232-7697. How is That Legal? is produced by Rowhome Productions. Jake Nussbaum is our producer and editor. Executive producers are Alex Lewis and John Myers. Special thanks to Zakya Hall, Caitlin Nagel and Molly Pollak. Music provided by Blue Dot Sessions. I'm your host, Kee Tobar. Thank you so much for joining us.