April 19, 2024

350.org Kicks Off National U.S. Utilities Campaign

Climate & Energy Experts Celebrate Launch of 350 U.S. Utilities Campaign

National, U.S. – On April 18th at 7 pm ET, climate & energy experts joined hundreds of people from across the country for the virtual kick-off of 350.org’s campaign to change the way utilities are structured in the U.S. The event illuminated the connections between high energy bills and the climate crisis, and set the stage for 350.org’s new US campaign to target utilities’ role in slowing or accelerating the transition to renewable energy.

Utilities—and the regulatory boards that oversee them—are structured differently in every state. So 350US plans to train local and regional activists and equip them with the tools they need to take effective action wherever they are. Utilities and the fossil fuel companies paying them off rely on a lack of public knowledge to allow them to continue business as usual. In some states, that means greenwashing and misrepresenting themselves to maintain their positive reputations and the public’s trust. In others, it simply means making the system seem inevitable, impenetrable, and not worth people’s time. They are banking on us continuing to pay our bills and air any grievances in private. But 350.org and its partners in the movement say: no more.

Candice Fortin, 350.org US Campaign Manager, said: “350.org is all about standing up to the systems—like the fossil fuel industry—that keep us from building a clean and just energy future that works better for all. We believe in returning power to the people, and we look for big fights where we can both show solutions and resist fossil fuel infrastructure. That’s why we helped install solar panels on the Keystone XL Pipeline, and that’s why we’re now looking to utilities as our next big fight. Utilities offer a unique lens to connect climate change to economic justice, through something that’s top-of-mind for nearly everyone: high utility bills, and the essential need to power our homes and our lives.”

Crystal Huang, of Energy Democracy Project, said that the “pyramid of extraction” is the root of all of the problems that come with the way our utilities are structured—from rate hikes, to power shutoffs, to extreme weather intensifying due to climate change. “What is the shape of the system that’s deciding everything, and how do we change that?” asked Crystal. “That’s what saying ‘people over profit’ really requires us to ask. How do we build a people-powered energy *system*? That’s what this campaign is asking.”

Matt Kasper, of Energy and Policy Institute, talked about how utilities often maintain a good (or neutral) reputation by their own design: “We’ve all seen the ways utilities make charitable contributions, run ads that make them look good. That’s what they want us to see…. what they don’t want us to see is utilities actively eroding democracy, and intentionally harming consumer protection.”

Robert Shobe of Justice for Beniteau, a new Detroit-based 350 affiliate, said that we should pay attention to whose power utility companies decide to shut off. “I know people who have had 30 outages a year. People on a CPAP machine, and every time the power goes out, they have to figure out how to get a hotel. And yet a business up the street can owe them $3million and continue to run, never getting their power shut off.”

Leaders from 350 affiliates SanDiego350 and 350 Wisconsin shared examples from their local utility fights—including some promising key wins. “The public is clearly saying that they want energy justice, and they want clean energy. So we organize different types of interventions to make them pay attention, from surprise flash mobs, to clearly calling out and publicizing the utilities’ harm. We get in the media, word spreads, and we have now seen two major wins in our rate cases,” said 350 Wisconsin Co-Executive Director Emily Park. “Next up, our public service commission will take up new questions that will hopefully open up more opportunities for public input.”

The campaign kick-off showcased the importance of using strategic tactics in combination—while flash mobs and press attention brought about rate case wins in Wisconsin, partners in New Mexico argued in court and managed to change stock trading. “It was one of the most amazing moments of my life,” said Mariel Nanasi of New Energy Economy. “During our Supreme Court argument, [utility company] AvanGrid stopped trading on Wall Street because our argument was so powerful that their stock tanked. I didn’t know that being a climate activist could look like reading SEC documents, but this time it did. I didn’t have a background in anything about stock trading. And yet it worked. Look what happened.”

The next phase in 350.org’s utilities newly-launched campaign is a public education series to equip people with the tools to get those same kinds of wins—and make sure that they multiply. This summer, 350 and affiliate groups from the 350 Network Council will launch a day of action to spread the campaign across the country. Anyone interested in getting involved in the utilities campaign and staying up-to-date can sign up here.


Media Contact:
Melanie Smith / [email protected]