Michigander Derrell Slaughter sees climate change activism as 'next civil rights movement'


In 2009, Derrell Slaughter began knocking on the doors of Michigan residents. He saw sustainability and climate change as the next civil rights movement and wanted to make sure Black people would be included in the transition to a green economy.

Going city to city across the state, Slaughter organized people and led initiatives like a youth recycling program and a youth-run urban garden.

Derell Slaughter. Courtesy photo.

“I wanted to address climate change, and also make sure to plug Black folks into economic opportunities that would come out of this whole movement,” he said.

This work was done through Greenation, an organization he cofounded. The group doesn’t exist anymore, but Slaughter’s work at the intersection of civil rights and climate change continues.

Following his organizing work with Greenation, he went to work at the Michigan Public Service Commission for nearly eight years.

The Michigan Public Service Commission, or MPSC, regulates public utility affairs such as how much utilities can charge for their services. While at the MPSC, Slaughter worked on creating more flexibility for Michigan residents in choosing their energy sources. He also advocated to make meetings more accessible to the public and to hold more stakeholder meetings.

Slaughter also shepherded the shift of energy utilities from a very low renewable energy portfolio towards incorporating more renewable energy projects every year.

“When we first started back in ‘09 and ‘10, the thought of relying on wind or solar generation was written off by the utilities and others who felt like we still had to have centralized coal or gas plants to provide generation,” he said. “Now we’re seeing that the utilities are moving away from that.”

Renewable energy in Michigan has grown nearly threefold from 4 percent of overall electricity generation in 2009 to 11 percent in 2020.

Slaughter said the biggest transformation he’s seen has been who’s involved in the work.

“When I started there were a handful of Black people that were in this space,” he said. “It’s still not where it needs to be, but it's much it's gotten better.”

And, he said, generally, a lot more people have become engaged in climate change work.

Currently, Slaughter works for the Natural Resources Defense Council, spearheading the organization's work in the MI Healthy Climate Plan, the state's plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and decarbonizing Michigan’s economy by 2050. Slaughter serves on Governor Whitmer’s Council on Climate Solutions, the committee overseeing the plan.

He is also working to hold Consumers Energy accountable to its customers. Consumers Energy provides gas and electricity to nearly 2 million people across Michigan. In 2021, despite the economic hardship caused by COVID-19, the utility requested a rate increase of $225 million. Slaughter and others worked to get the increase down to a little more than $27 million.

He’s also working with the energy utility on energy efficiency programs and implementing renewables, as well.

“The user has to be at the center of how these programs are designed,” he said.

Slaughter said he is proud of the work he and the organizations he's worked for have done to advocate for clean, affordable energy in Michigan..

“In the transition ahead to a clean energy economy people need to be thinking about how to make the work more person-centered,” he said.

And he’s ready to keep doing the work.

“I still feel like I'm just getting started,” he said. “It's exciting, especially with all the new folks that are a part of this work.”

What questions do you have about the environment and climate change in Michigan? Please let us know by reaching out to me at nina@planetdetroit.org. NOTE: Please don't reply directly to this email, it will go into a digital netherworld.


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