For Immediate Release, March 13, 2021
Gaby Sarri-Tobar, Center for Biological Diversity, (202) 594-7271, firstname.lastname@example.org
On COVID Anniversary, Justice Groups Gather in D.C. to Demand Utility-shutoffs Moratorium
WASHINGTON— The national #NoShutOffs Coalition and We Power DC mobilized today outside the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services building to call on President Biden and local D.C. officials to impose a moratorium on power, water and broadband shutoffs.
One year after COVID-19 was declared a national emergency in the United States, millions of households have either experienced utility shutoffs or are at risk of losing access to these vital utilities because of the massive economic downturn.
“It’s been one year since COVID started ravaging the country, but Congress, the president and local officials are still not protecting access to life-saving utility services,” said Gaby Sarri-Tobar, an energy justice campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We urge President Biden and Health and Human Services to put a shutoffs moratorium in place. We also need universal utility reform to build a just, equitable energy future where households aren’t forced into choosing between keeping their lights on or feeding their families.”
The COVID-19 economic downturn has created overwhelming energy fragility, leaving millions across the country at risk of disconnection over an inability to pay bills. The results can be fatal. A recent study by Duke University estimated a nationwide utility moratorium could have avoided 8.7% of COVID-19 cases and 14.8% of deaths.
Only nine states and D.C. have moratoria on disconnections. But D.C.’s will expire soon unless the city government renews it. Almost 72,000 residential D.C. customers owe a collective $30 million in debt to Pepco, the District’s Exelon-owned electric utility. Meanwhile, Pepco Holdings reported $81 million in earnings in its fourth quarter.
“Pepco continues to profit as working-class Washingtonians suffer from historic economic, health and climate crises,” said Andrea Crooms of We Power DC. “We demand that the D.C. Public Utilities Commission or the D.C. Council outlaw utility shutoffs, starting with an extension of the emergency moratorium, and that Pepco forgive all existing debt out of their own pockets.”
Residential electricity debt in the nation’s capital more than doubled from January 2020 to January 2021. This growing energy burden is unequally distributed, with communities of color and low-income communities at higher risk of disconnection. In D.C., 85% of Pepco’s low-income residents are currently behind on their bills, yet Pepco applied for multi-year rate hikes in D.C. and Maryland.
“COVID worsened the inequities in our utility system, and this moment demands change,” said Johanna Bozuwa, climate and energy co-manager at the Democracy Collaborative. “Shutoffs won’t end when COVID goes away because our private utility system serves profits, not people. To stop the shutoffs and these injustices, President Biden and Congress should also advance a public and democratic utility system.”
The nationwide NoShutOffs coalition, consisting of 1,200 organizations, called on both President Biden and Congress to enact a moratorium via executive order and through a relief package. Congress recently passed the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 without shutoff moratorium legislation.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
We Power DC is a coalition of community members and organizations working to create a clean, equitable, and democratically-controlled energy system for every DC resident.