edgefield solar farm (copy)

A solar farm installed at W.E. Parker Elementary School is expected to save the Edgefield School District $900,000 over the course of a decade. 

By LEO WOODBERRY and DANNA SMITH

With hurricane season upon us, residents of the Lowcountry know firsthand the important role that nature plays in their lives. Healthy, intact, wetland forests provide critical life-supporting services like ensuring a steady and clean supply of drinking water, purifying the air, providing natural flood control and creating a space of beauty for spiritual renewal. They also know how devastating climate change has become to our communities and why South Carolina needs to move away from dirty energy toward a truly renewable energy future to protect the region from the worst impacts of the climate crisis.

Rather than continuing to support dirty polluting industries, we should be forging a new path of justice that includes people across the state in the clean energy revolution. In light of the failed V.C. Summer nuclear plant, we have an opportunity to recalculate how we generate energy in a just and equitable manner for our state and for future generations.

This past legislative session, the government could have supported the shift to true renewables and a clean energy future for all, but continued to support the interests of certain corporate profits and failed to pass legislation that would have lifted the cap on solar power production in the state.

And people have been burdened by high utility bills over the last decade thanks to the failed nuclear plant. When we could be emphasizing small scale solar and wind, instead we cave to the utilities that want to retain total control of the grid. If power companies like Dominion have their way, we’ll never have energy independence, and we will remain wholly dependent on them. Additionally, they are readying a push to expand the controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline into the state should they be allowed to buy our big, failing utilities.

Additionally, forest-destroying industries like the biomass industry and wood pellet manufacturers are looking to the rich natural forests in South Carolina and are moving in.

Tens of thousands of acres will be clearcut every year to meet this demand and only the largest landowners and executives and shareholders at the company will profit.

While corporate executives and many landowners have acquired significant wealth from polluting the environment and logging forests, rural communities living on the frontlines of the destruction have some of the highest poverty and unemployment rates in the country.

Despite all of the setbacks, opportunities abound in the Palmetto State, and we can collectively move in a different direction. We can invest in a new energy infrastructure that favors small, community-based solar and wind power.

Like those who’ve seen the benefits that our wetlands bring to the Lowcountry, we can and must also invest in restoring natural infrastructure by protecting our forests to keep our communities safe from flooding and ensuring an unlimited supply of abundant, fresh water.

We need an environmental bill of rights that protects everyone’s access to clean water, clean air and wild nature.

Doing clean energy and forest protection right means good local jobs, sustainable economic development, controllable energy costs and lower medical expenses because of less air pollution. Whether we are working for climate justice, economic justice, or racial justice, we are all fighting for justice.

If we all band together for justice we can hold off the worst impacts of climate change, end persistent poverty, and build resilient communities where everyone has a clean, healthy, safe and beautiful place to live, work, learn and play.

South Carolina could become one of the most prosperous states in the nation by putting liberty and climate justice for all at the forefront of policy decisions related to energy, forests, and economic development.

The Rev. Leo Woodberry is pastor of Kingdom Living Temple in Florence and executive director of the nonprofit New Alpha Community Development Corporation. Danna Smith is the founder and executive director of Dogwood Alliance. Their Justice First tour is coming to North Charleston on Friday from 6 p.m.-8 p.m. at the Gethsemani Community Center.

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