Executive Director of Green for All Nikki Silvestri; EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy 
TEDxManhattan screenshot; Alex Wong/Getty Images

Climate change is no longer a problem for a distant tomorrow. We’re feeling the impact on our health, on our environment and on our economy today. But while climate change hurts everyone, communities of color and low-income Americans are the hardest hit.

Underserved communities are the least equipped to deal with more intense superstorms, severe weather and extreme temperatures fueled by climate change. From a deadly heat wave that killed hundreds in Chicago—with the South Side’s predominantly African-American neighborhoods among the hardest hit—to the long-lasting devastation of Hurricane Katrina, the country’s most vulnerable populations are hit first and worst by climate-related disasters.

Although we limit pollutants like mercury, sulfur and arsenic, there are currently no limits on carbon pollution from power plants, our nation’s largest source. That’s not smart, it’s not safe, and President Barack Obama has determined that it needs to stop. Close to 3 out of 4 African Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant, and African-American children have an 80 percent higher rate of asthma and are nearly three times more likely to die from asthma than their white peers.

That’s why, this summer, our country took a huge step in combating the impact of climate change with the first-ever carbon pollution standards for power plants. Under the president’s direction, the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Clean Power Plan aims to reduce carbon pollution 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.


The Clean Power Plan is a breath of fresh air for the vulnerable communities most affected by climate change. Reducing carbon emissions will also cut particle pollution, nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide by more than 25 percent. In just the first year these standards go into effect, we’ll avoid up to 100,000 asthma attacks and 2,100 heart attacks—and those numbers go up from there.

Some critics are saying that the EPA’s plan will push electricity prices up, hurting low-income communities. But any small price increase would be well within the normal price fluctuations that families already deal with. And by the time these standards are fully in place in 2030, the average household will save $8 a month on electricity.


The real danger to low-income families comes from more-frequent natural disasters and temperature extremes brought on by climate change. Rebuilding a home destroyed by a hurricane, or even paying a heating bill that spikes during a polar vortex—those are the costs that disadvantaged families truly cannot afford.

In addition, the shift to cleaner, more efficient and more sustainable energy will create thousands of clean-energy jobs that can’t be shipped overseas—in construction, transmission, engineering and more. These green-collar jobs not only will improve the health of the country’s most vulnerable populations but also will create pathways out of poverty for countless families.


There are already a growing number of green businesses creating meaningful opportunities for employment. For example, WDC Solar in Washington, D.C., trains disadvantaged young people for careers in solar panel installation. These opportunities will continue to expand under the plan’s new incentives to improve energy efficiency.

The proposed regulations are just the beginning of the work we must do to combat climate change and protect our most vulnerable neighbors, family and friends. And if you want your voice to be heard, you can attend a public hearing on the Clean Power Plan or voice your support for carbon pollution standards by sending a comment card. We urge you to stand united with us in the fight for the health and safety of all Americans, especially those who are most at risk.


Gina McCarthy is administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Follow her on Twitter. Nikki Silvestri is executive director of Green for All. Follow her on Twitter.

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