Early on Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins noticed how environmental issues affected poor regions and communities of color. In fact, she has made a career out of fighting for undeserved communities and workers. This includes improving environmental conditions. A sustainability advocate, today Ellis-Lamkins is the CEO of the anti-poverty organization Green For All.
Prior to this, she was the executive officer of the South Bay AFL–CIO Labor Council in California and she was also executive director of Working Partnerships USA. Working Partnerships is a coalition of community groups, labor and faith organizations that focuses on economic disparities in California's Silicon Valley. In 2003, she spearheaded the launch of Partnership for Working Families, a national coalition aimed at harnessing economic power and reshaping urban environment for workers and communities.
Ellis-Lamkins, who graduated from California State University, Northridge, is also a former union organizer with SEIU Local 715 in San Jose.
She joined Green For All 2009. The organization's goal is to build a green economy while lifting citizens out of poverty. Founded by famed green advocate Van Jones, the organization was launched in September 2007 at the Clinton Global Initiative.
Among the achievements during her tenure was the creation of a coalition that advocated for equity-based amendments to the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (ACES). The coalition celebrated success when the House of Representatives unanimously approved a version of ACES that included $860 million for green job training as well as a provision ensuring local workers access to ACES-funded energy-efficiency and renewable energy projects.
There have been various other victories with local governments and also other campaigns spearheaded by Ellis-Lamkins. Among them, The Capital Access Program that is focused on the private sector to create green jobs and Green the Block, a partnership with Green For All and the Hip Hop Caucus aimed at helping low-income communities of color become strong forces in the clean-energy economy.
TNJ.com: Why did you decide to work with Green For All?
Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins: I know first-hand why the green economy matters. I grew up in Suisun City, California, in the shadow of oil refineries. Like a lot of kids in my polluted community, I suffered from asthma. Even though I lived in an area with poor air quality, moving wasn’t an option. My family was forced to choose between making a living and having clean air and water. No one should have to make that choice. That’s why I work for Green For All. We’re working to build a strong, healthy, green economy with good jobs and clean air and water.
TNJ.com: What are some of your goals for the organization for this year?
PEL: This year, we are focused on four steps to grow an inclusive green economy. We are working to promote investment in clean energy and energy efficiency. As it stands, energy efficiency upgrades on 40% of buildings would create 625,000 long-term jobs. We are supporting efforts to fix our crumbling infrastructure. Fixing our stormwater systems would cut back on sewage contamination and create 2 million jobs. Green For All is also advocating for an end to polluter giveaways and working to make them pay. We could save $8 billion a year by cutting oil subsidies, while also generating $1.25 trillion over 10 years by putting a price on carbon pollution. And, we are making sure vulnerable communities have access to opportunity through helping to connect workers with jobs and training in energy efficiency, clean energy, and green infrastructure.
TNJ.com: What are the organization’s goals over the next five years?
PEL: Green For All is working to expand the green economy and connect vulnerable communities to opportunities. We will continue to move toward these goals through encouraging investment in clean energy, energy efficiency, and green infrastructure; creating “High Road” strategies to ensure that energy efficiency and green infrastructure projects not only employ local, disadvantaged workers, but also pay fair wages and support green entrepreneurs through business coaching and business academies.
TNJ.com: Do you think the urban community is becoming more concerned with green issues?
PEL: Yes. Communities of color, especially people living in urban communities, are on the front lines of climate change and pollution. In neighborhoods with the fewest resources, it’s harder to escape, survive and recover. African Americans in L.A. are twice as likely to die in a heat wave, because of “heat islands” created by concrete/no shade, coupled with lack of access to cars and air conditioning. One in six African American kids has asthma, compared to 1 in 10 nationwide. And, 68% of African Americans live within 30 miles of a coal plant.
But, while the urban community stands to benefit from expanding the green economy, many within the community are already leading the way. Mark Davis started WDC Solar, which will be the only African American-owned solar panel manufacturer in the nation once its solar manufacturing facility opens in D.C. And, Kareem Dale started Gaia Group, which has made more than 1,000 low-income homes in Houston energy-efficient.
TNJ.com: Do you think the Obama Administration is doing all it can for the Green issue?
PEL: Obama supports building America’s green economy and has helped move many green initiatives since he assumed office in 2009. Just recently, the President stated that he would veto the Northern Route Approval Act (H.R. 3), which authorizes construction of the first leg of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, designed to carry toxic tar sands oil from Canada to Texas. In December, the Environmental Protection Agency released long-awaited safeguards limiting the amount of fine particulate matter, including soot pollution, that coal plants and other industries can pump into the air.
But, there is more that we can do. Green For All is working with the Obama Administration and those in office on several policy initiatives, such as the Local Food, Farms, and Jobs Act of 2013, sponsored by Representative Chellie Pingree and Senator Sherrod Brown, which would encourage sustainable agriculture and tap into the tremendous opportunity created by the growth of local food markets. On the state-level, we’ve also helped states like Washington and New Mexico pioneer green jobs and energy-efficiency programs.
TNJ.com: What do you enjoy the most about what you do?
PEL: I enjoy seeing the lives of real, hardworking people improve due to the work that we do. Through meeting with our business folks or other constituents, I can see how our resources – whether a webinar, business academy, mentoring program, event or written guide – are helping people either build their business and create jobs for those that need it most or get involved and interested in enhancing the green economy.
I also have a greater sense of urgency about our mission now, because I am a mother and I know my daughter will have to live in this world. And, I want to do everything in my power to make sure I leave it better off for her.