Hundreds Gather in Memphis to Discuss Environmental Justice Issues

Guest Blog | December 2, 2014 | Coal, Energy Justice, Energy Policy
Dr. Robert Bullard, Keynote Speaker

This blog was co-authored by Sandra Upchurch, SACE’s Memphis Energy Organizer.

As fall descended on Memphis, over 250 people attended the Sierra Club’s 13th Annual Grassroots Community Conference. This was the first year the conference was hosted by the University of Memphis, which joined Sierra Club and other community groups in discussing this year’s conference theme of “Community Health, Environmental Justice & Clean Energy.”  This year’s keynote speaker, Dr. Robert D. Bullard, is considered the “father of environmental justice” and was the first African-American to be awarded Sierra Club’s John Muir award.  Along with Dr. Bullard, other environmental advocates and community activists presented panels on  a wide range of topics including green spaces in urban communities, how to prepare for environmental disasters and how to make your home more energy efficient.

Dr. Bullard is the current Dean of the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University in Houston.  His presentation, entitled “Twenty Years After President Clinton’s Executive Order On Environmental Justice,” focused on the environmental justice issues in the Southeast and highlighted the disproportionate impact climate change has and will continue to have on our Southern states.  Dr. Bullard stressed the need for a Southeast initiative on climate justice in order to address the harms posed by climate change on minority and impoverished communities in the Southeast.  You can find more information on the impacts of climate change in SACE’s southeastern states by checking out our Southeast state climate change fact sheets. 

Jack Cowan and Sandra Upchurch show their support for solar!
Sandra Upchurch teaching attendees how to save money and energy in their homes.

SACE staff were honored to be among the presenters on the educational panels.  Sandra Upchurch, SACE’s Memphis Energy Organizer, joined forces with local energy efficiency expert Jack Cowan, to present a panel entitled “The High Performance House: Your Health, Environmental and Money.”  Mr. Cowan’s runs an energy performance evaluation service that educates homeowners on how to address energy loss issues and helps empower homeowners through education on how they can change their behaviors and retrofit their homes to decrease total energy use. (You can learn more about Mr. Cowan’s own zero energy home here.)

In another conference panel, Angela Garrone, SACE’s Southeast Energy Research Attorney, focused on the negative health effects of coal-fired power plants and discussed upcoming public health regulations aimed at reducing carbon emissions from coal plants in her presentation “What’s Good About Dirty Energy?”  Participants were able to learn about air and water pollution caused by operation of coal power plants, including TVA’s Allen coal plant, which is located in South Memphis and was recently announced for retirement.

Also during the conference, the Sierra Club presented the 2014 Dick Mochow Environmental Justice award to Madeleine Taylor, Executive Director of the Memphis Branch of the NAACP.  Ms. Taylor has been a long-time advocate for change in Memphis, beginning as a social worker focused on poverty issues and continuing with her work as a NAACP leader.  Ms. Taylor was honored for her commitment to environmental and energy issues, including her efforts to address public health concerns around TVA’s Allen coal plant, located in South Memphis.

All in all, this year’s conference was a complete success and one of the most well attended conferences to-date.  A big thanks goes out to Rita Harris, Sierra Club’s Environment Justice organizer based in Memphis, who has hosted this conference for the past 13 years!  The Grassroots Community Conference is one of the few places for Memphians to gather, discuss and learn about ways to make Memphis cleaner, safer and greener.  SACE has been honored to be included in these conferences for the past 3 years and looks forward to working with Sierra Club, and other community groups like CleanMemphis, NAACP and MidSouth Peace and Justice Center, to address environmental and energy issues that affect low-income and minority communities.


Attendees listen as SACE's Angela Garrone presents on the dangers of coal-fired power.
Conference attendees discuss energy issues during the break.
Andrew Murphy of CleanMemphis mans his table at the Grassroots Environmental Conference
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