Founded in 2004, the Energy Action Coalition (EAC) describes itself as “a coalition of 50 youth-led environmental and social justice groups working together to build the youth clean energy and climate movement.” For EAC, this means “dismantling oppression” according to its principles of environmental justice, which emphasize:
“ethical, balanced and responsible uses of land and renewable resources in the interest of a sustainable planet for humans and other living things”
“universal protection from nuclear testing, extraction, production and disposal of toxic/hazardous wastes and poisons”
“the right of all workers to a safe and healthy work environment”
“the need for urban and rural ecological policies to clean up and rebuild our cities and rural areas in balance with nature, honoring the cultural integrity of all our communities, and provided fair access for all to the full range of resources”
“a halt to the testing of experimental reproductive and medical procedures and vaccinations on people of color”
opposition to “the destructive operations of multi-national corporations”
opposition to “military occupation, repression and exploitation of lands, peoples and cultures, and other life forms”
In addition, EAC’s articles of belief also require “victims of environmental injustice to receive full compensation and reparations for damages as well as quality health care.” As such, EAC believes in the eradication of “environmental racism” so as “to secure” the “political, economic, and cultural liberation that has been denied for over 500 years of colonization and oppression.”
With offices in New York and Washington, DC, EAC is a prominent member of Al Gore’s Alliance for Climate Protection. EAC’s 50 constituent groups include such organizations as: 1Sky; Campus Progress; the Chesapeake Climate Action Network; the Earth Day Network; the California Student Sustainability Coalition (a project of the Earth Island Institute); Global Exchange; the Van Jones and Joel Rogers-founded Green For All; the Greenpeace Student Network; the Indigenous Environmental Network; the League of Conservation Voters Education Fund; Campus Ecology of the National Wildlife Federation; the Rainforest Action Network; the Responsible Endowments Coalition; the Ruckus Society; the Rutgers-based New Jersey Public Interest Research Group; the Sierra Student Coalition and the Sierra Youth Coalition, (both youth-led chapters of the Sierra Club); the Southern Energy Network; the Southwest Workers Union; the Student Environmental Action Coalition; SustainUS; the Environmental Justice and Climate Change Initiative (a project funded by the Tides Center); and the United States Student Association.
EAC emerged out of the first “Fossil Fools Day” on April 1, 2004, which was held primarily on college campuses across the United States. Billy Parish, one of the principal coordinators of the event, is the most prominent founder of EAC. In 2005, with the new coalition well established, Parish and his partners were able to double the size and impact of Fossil Fools Day.
Parish became EAC’s first Executive Director, but to soon left to become an Ashoka fellow, working to coordinate the efforts of EAC member groups 1Sky, Black Mesa Water Coalition, and Green for All. Jessy Tolkan, another key EAC organizer and a former United States Student Association (USSA) organizer, took over Parish role. When Tolkan herself eventually left EAC in 2009 to join Green For All, Courtney Hight, another former national organizer for the USSA, replaced her at EAC. Previously, Hight had worked as USSA’s get-out-the-vote director for the 2006 midterm elections; she then joined the Barack Obama presidental campaign in early 2007; and she was selected to serve on the White House Council on Environmental Quality after Obama’s presidential victory in 2008.
As head of EAC, Hight has championed President Obama’s promise to transform the American “system.” For her, the purpose of the energy revolution can be crystallized in a complete rejection of “Big Oil and its harmful cohort Dirty Coal.” To my generation,” Hight wrote, “it seems pretty simple. Stop. Stop using oil. Stop subsidizing an entire industry that is literally destroying us.”
Adams Hlava, EAC’s operations director, also has experience organizing political campaigns for Democratic candidates. In 2006 he worked for Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle’s successful re-election effort, and in 2008 he was a manager for former New Hampshire Governor Jeanne Shaheen’s successful Senate bid.
Of the six leaders currently running EAC, two of them, Anjali Helferty and Whit Jones, come from youth chapters of the Sierra Club, America’s oldest and most powerful environmental organization.
One of EAC’s chief projects is the Campus Climate Challenge, which was initiated at EAC’s founding meeting as a plan to hold an Energy Independence Day on October 14, 2004 — a series of concurrect demonstrations that were held in more than 280 separate locales. By 2007, EAC was able to mobilize even larger rallies. In January of that year, “Rising to the Climate Challenge” became, according to EAC, “the largest youth mobilization in the history of the youth climate change” with events held on almost 600 campuses in 49 states and eight Canadian provinces.
Funders of EAC’s Campus Climate Challenge include: the Botwinick-Wolfensohn Family Foundation, the Bullitt Foundation, Clear the Air, the Energy Foundation, the Hull Family Foundation, the Kendall Foundation, the Kendeda Fund, the Laird Norton Foundation, the Lynford Family Charitable Trust, the Merck Family Fund, New York Community Trust, George Soros’ Open Society Institute, the Overbrook Foundation, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and the Surdna Foundation.
Since 2007, EAC has held annual youth-climate summits. The first of these events, “Power Shift 2007,” took place at the University of Maryland and was attended by some 6,000 students from all over the United States. Guest speakers included Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Congressman Ed Markey (D-MA), and Barack Obama’s future “green jobs czar” Van Jones.
In 2008, EAC transformed its summit into a “Power Vote” campaign in an effort to unite 350,000 young voters behind a call for clean and “just” energy. EAC’s get-out-the-vote campaign operated at party conventions, presidential debates, and hosted a webcast with Al Gore.
In February 2009, EAC held its Power Shift summit in Washington D.C. According to Billy Parish, the event doubled its attendance from 6,000 in 2007 to 12,000 and featured a variety of speakers from Congress and the White House, including Representatives Ed Markey and Donna Edwards (D -MD), Ken Salazar (President Obama’s Secretary of the Interior), and Lisa Jackson (Obama’s Administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency).