By Dr. E. Faye Williams, Esq.
President/CEO of the National Congress of Black Women
(Trice Edney Wire)-Sometimes in the Black community, we’re so concerned about feeding our families, paying the rent and figuring out other essential things that we don’t take the time to think about the environment and how it impacts us—but we must begin not only thinking about it, but acting to change it. Climate change is one of the greatest public health challenges of our time. Breathing dirty, carbon-polluted air that causes climate change contributes to thousands of asthma attacks, hospital visits, and premature deaths every year. It affects some communities more than others. African American and lower-income communities are often hit the hardest by climate change in the United States.
That’s why it is important for us to support the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which is expected to be finalized this summer. This proposal sets the first ever federal limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants, invests in clean, renewable energy, and boosts cost-saving energy efficiency.
It’s astounding that these standards don’t yet exist when we already have public health safeguards against mercury, arsenic, and soot from power plants. Unrestricted carbon pollution is accelerating the rate of climate change and threatening our most vulnerable communities, making public health worse with each passing day.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) found that people of color account for a near 40 percent of the six million Americans living in close proximity to a coal-fired power plant. More than 20 million people with incomes meeting the federal poverty definition live in counties that received failing grades for at least one pollutant. Almost 3.5 million people in poverty live in counties that fail all three pollutant tests for ozone and other particles, as reported by the American Lung Association.
This environmental injustice stems from basic market forces. Lower income families are forced by land costs and housing market dynamics to live closer than others to the biggest sources of carbon pollution. These sources include power plants, busy roadways, and factories. Companies often choose to build their factories in low-income neighborhoods to take advantage of lower property values, leaving the residents of these communities literally struggling to breathe.
According to the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, African Americans make emergency room visits for asthma-related issues nearly 350 percent more than the average rate for whites. And compared to adults, children of color living in low-income communities are even more susceptible to air pollution as they already tend to have higher asthma rates.
The Clean Power Plan means significant cuts to carbon pollution that is causing climate change and contributing to increased rates of asthma attacks and other illnesses in our communities. The proposal reduces carbon pollution 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.
It’s projected that the plan could help prevent up to 150,000 asthma attacks in children and up to 6,600 premature deaths annually by 2030, in addition to preventing over 3,000 heart attacks and up to 2,800 hospital admissions. It’s expected to provide up to $93 billion in total climate and public health benefits, proving that we never have to choose health over our economy.
This is a plan that we need to help keep all of our communities safe and healthy. It’s not right that any of us have to live with dirty air that makes us sick. It’s especially unfair that our least fortunate and most vulnerable communities – our children and those living in poverty and with lower incomes – have to suffer even more than the rest. The EPA must move forward with its plan to take meaningful action to reduce carbon pollution and combat the climate change that is hurting our public health. Our lives depend upon this action!