IEC, ELPC, and NAACP Pursue Reporting on Electricity Disconnections and Protections for Customers
on Monday, August 31, 2020
DES MOINES -- August, 31, 2020 -- The Iowa Environmental Council (IEC), Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC), and the Iowa-Nebraska NAACP submitted comments to the Iowa Utilities Board earlier this month, seeking to require reporting of electricity disconnections by ZIP code and billing protections for customers.
As many Iowans learned after the August 10 Derecho, losing electricity can be debilitating. “Electricity disconnection has a profound impact on a person’s life. It can have serious implications for a person’s health and safety, at any time of year for customers reliant on utility services for medical devices and life-supporting systems—and for all vulnerable customers during heat waves and the bitter cold of winter” said Betty C. Andrews, president of the Iowa-Nebraska NAACP.
“Between this country's longstanding racial wealth gap, the coronavirus pandemic and measurably higher loss of employment for Blacks in the economic downturn that has occurred as a result, we fear that Black Iowans are likely to be disproportionately affected by utility disconnections. We want to track how disconnections are impacting Iowans and mitigate any disparate outcomes based on race or income level.”
Research in other states has found that utility disconnections – and their associated fees – disproportionately affected communities with more people of color. Iowa does not require collecting or reporting on disconnections by census tract or ZIP code. “Collecting this data in Iowa is a necessary first step to evaluate the issue,” said Michael Schmidt, IEC’s staff attorney. “Reporting data by location would show whether there are disparate impacts. And it would facilitate targeted energy efficiency assistance.”
Disparate effects of the pandemic led Illinois in June to require reporting disconnections by ZIP code. “We know the impacts of the pandemic are not equal, including in Iowa. We want to know the effects for utility customers,” said Josh Mandelbaum, senior attorney at ELPC.
A recent study in Black Hawk County found that nearly all African-Americans in the county lived in three ZIP codes, highlighting that data collected at a county level could miss disparate impacts.
The comments also request that all customers have the option of “budget billing” – having equal payments every month – and the option of a 12-month payment plan after a disconnection. Budget billing makes it easier for customers to budget for electricity. A payment plan would help people who lost their jobs or face other challenges that make it difficult to make a lump sum payment for past-due bills.
“Payment plans can benefit everyone – customers can afford it and the utilities get paid for their service. It’s a fair approach and helps people who are struggling,” said Schmidt.
The Utilities Board will consider the comments in determining language for rules governing utilities statewide.
The Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) is the Midwest's leading public interest environmental legal advocacy organization. We develop strategic campaigns to protect natural resources and improve environmental quality. Our multi-disciplinary staff employs teamwork approaches using legal, economic, and public policy tools to produce successes that improve our environment and economy. Learn more at elpc.org.
The Iowa Environmental Council (IEC) is an alliance of diverse organizations and individuals working together to protect Iowa's natural environment. Founded in 1995, it is the largest and most comprehensive environmental coalition in the state. Through education, advocacy and coalition building, the Council raises awareness, generates action and creates large-scale change that makes Iowa a better place to live, work and explore. Learn more at iaenvironment.org.
The Iowa-Nebraska NAACP State Area Conference, a conference of the national NAACP, is dedicated to ensuring the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate race-based discrimination. Founded in 1909, the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) is the largest and most pre-eminent civil rights organization in the nation with over 2,200 units and branches, along with well over 2 million activists. Learn more at iowanebraskanaacp.org.
- environmental justice