The Trump administration and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler have failed African-American communities. Earth Day is the ideal time to renew our commitment to ensure everyone has equal access to clean air and safe environments regardless of which zip code they live in. It is also a time to remember our history is rooted in the American soil that our ancestors’ hands worked and the seeds they planted to feed and fuel future generations to care for our environment.
I know and have seen the impact of dangerous pollution firsthand. We live in West Oakland, Calif., an area where factories, public transportation, trucks and cars release high levels of pollution into the air. It is important to note, tailpipe pollution is especially harmful for African Americans, who suffer disproportionately from air pollution with black children 4.5 times more likely to be hospitalized for asthma and 10 times more likely to die from asthma than white children. We have a 10-year-old son who suffers from asthma. Despite his asthma, we let him play football, a sport he loves, because we want all our children to play, live and thrive in life.
The EPA is charged with monitoring these pollutants and putting safeguards in place that protect us all. But the Trump administration has consistently failed us through a long list of budget cuts and policy rollbacks. Earlier this year, we marked the 25th anniversary of President Clinton signing an Executive Order requiring all federal agencies to make environmental justice part of their missions, a move to correct the course of environmental racism. However, during his first year in office, President Trump announced plans to dismantle EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice. This year, the Trump administration’s fiscal year 2020 proposed budget would cut EPA funding by an outrageous 31 percent, the highest of any federal agency. Budgets represent values, and it’s clear that this administration does not value environmental justice or our health and well-being.
Furthermore, instead of advancing environmental justice by offering solutions to protect health, combat climate change and achieve equitable outcomes, the Trump administration continues to do the bidding of corporate polluters by dismantling lifesaving health and climate protections like the Clean Power Plan. This protection established the first federal limit on climate-changing carbon pollution released from power plants and is projected to prevent 90,000 child asthma attacks, 300,000 missed work and school days, and up to 3,600 premature deaths annually by 2030 according to EPA estimates. Repealing it would mean more sick kids, more expensive hospital visits, and thousands of premature deaths that could have been prevented.
As a pastor, I join with many other ministers in my moral obligation to condemn the decision by the Trump administration to weaken America’s clean car standards, which reduce tailpipe pollution, fight climate change, and save families money at the pump.
A recent EPA study found when it comes to particulate air pollution—which is linked to premature death in people with heart or lung disease, irregular heartbeats and decreased lung function—the health burden on black lives is 54 percent higher than the health burden on the American population overall. Additionally, the clean car standards have saved American drivers over $80 billion to date. Rolling back standards that reduce pollution and save drivers money makes no sense.
If that wasn’t enough, EPA Administrator Wheeler is also moving to dismantle the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. These protections help safeguard our communities against mercury, soot, and other deadly toxicants from coal and oil-burning power plants. EPA estimates that federal mercury pollution protections prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths, 130,000 asthma attacks, and 4,700 heart attacks each year. Mercury pollution is particularly hazardous, endangering pregnant women, unborn children, kids and other vulnerable communities causing severe brain damage to those exposed to it. With 68 percent of African Americans living within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant, and more than 6.7 million living in a county that is home to a refinery, Wheeler’s “Poison Plan” hits close to home.
The saying goes that actions speak louder than words, and by that standard, Trump and Administrator Wheeler’s moves to gut these safeguards are heard loud and clear in our community. Instead of rolling back the progress, we should be moving forward in addressing the needs of our communities, the environment, and climate change. On Earth Day, the fight for environmental justice continues with greater urgency. Celebrate the day by speaking out against the Trump administration’s dangerous actions and speaking up for clean air, clean water, and safer communities.
Rev. Dr. Ambrose F. Carroll is founder of Green The Church, an initiative designed to tap into the power and purpose of the African-American church community, and to explore and expand the role of churches as centers for environmental and economic resilience. Reverend Carroll currently serves as senior pastor at the Church by The Side of The Road in Berkeley, Calif.