Why Clean Air is a Social Justice Issue that Black Folks Should Care About Most

“At first glance, air pollution generally and power plant pollution specifically, would not seem to rank among the highest priorities for African-Americans. However, African-Americans
are disproportionately affected by power plant emissions because we are concentrated in large urban centers, suffer higher rates of asthma and share a historical bond with the developing world where climate change threatens already weak and overburdened economies. From this perspective, power plant cleanup is elevated on the long list of social justice imperatives.” The Air of Injustice, a collaborative report from The Black Leadership Forum, The Southern Organizing Committee for Economic and Social Justice, the Georgia Coalition for The People’s Agenda, and Clear the Air

Did you know that Black children have a
·      260% higher emergency room visit rate,
·      250% higher hospitalization rate, and
·      500% higher death rate from asthma, as compared with White children?
       (See U.S. Dept of Health, Office of Minority Health)
If coal-fired power plant pollution is a major concern for the general population, it is a critical issue for African Americans.
  • Coal-fired power plants produce 386,000 tons of hazardous air pollutants per year
  • Coal-fired power plants produce 84 different hazardous air pollutants including:
    • Acid gases, such as hydrogen chloride andhydrogen fluoride
    • Benzene, toluene and other compounds
    • Dioxins
    • Formaldehyde
    • Lead, arsenic, and other metals
    • Mercury
    • Radioactive materials, like radium and uranium
  •  Sixty-eight percent of African Americans (compared to 56% of the white population) live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant — the distance within which the maximum effects of the smokestack plume are expected to occur.
  • Infants who live in highly polluted cities during the first two months of life have a higher mortality rate. High particulate matter (pollution) levels markedly increase the risk of SIDS and respiratory mortality. Since African Americans tend to live in polluted urban centers, this impacts us significantly.
(See “Air of Injustice”, Air of Injustice, a collaborative report from The Black Leadership Forum, The Southern Organizing Committee for Economic and Social Justice, the Georgia Coalition for The People’s Agenda, and Clear the Air, 2002)

These statistics are frightening and should give every African-American head-of-household pause. For all that we do to improve the lives of our children, how insidious is this quiet killer, that while we strive to improve our diets and the safety of our neighborhoods, the very air we are breathing is undermining our efforts. Legislators,unethical corporations and their lobbyists are deciding as a matter of policy that the human life  nearest and most affected by these power plants are expendable and less important. And we, distracted by all of the other challenges that impact our day-to-day, allow decisionmakers to deprioritize our children.

In furtherance of the Clean Air Act, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently proposed rules that would regulate toxic air emissions– including mercury, lead, arsenic and acid gas pollution– from coal-fired power plants. The E.P.A.’s proposed regulations will, for the first time, limit on how much mercury or other toxic pollutants power plants can emit. This is an important move toward cleaning up the air and making our environment  livable for everyone, especially us.

I encourage you to know the facts:

Go HERE for a Fact Sheet on the proposed rules.
Go HERE for the Plain English Guide to the Clean Air Act .
And I urge you to get angry and concerned enough to send your comments to the EPA to this email address: a-and-r-docket@epa.gov
Emails should reference these Docket ID numbers:
Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2011-0044 (NSPS action)
Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2009-0234 (NESHAP action)
From a public health perspective, what is good for our children is good for the entire country. Every one loses when we allow companies to poison our air. From a social justice perspective, the disproportionate impact of power plants on the poor and people of color is a human rights matter and our response to it is an exercise in self-determination over victimization. Every person has a right to clean air and a healthy environment. Every human life is valuable.
Below is a Sample email to the E.P.A. I invite and encourage you to use it with your own signature:
To: a-and-r-docket@epa.gov
Subject Box: Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2011-0044 (NSPS action)
                       Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2009-0234 (NESHAP action)
Ladies and Gentlemen:
On behalf of my family and my community, I urge you to maintain the high standards you have set for the enforcement of the Clean Air Act. I am well aware that my community, the African American community, suffers far greater negative impacts from the emissions of coal-fired power plants.  I know that we experience substantially higher emergency room visit rates, hospitalization rates, and death rates from asthma and other respiratory ailments due to this kind of pollution.
My children are not expendable. I no longer wish for them to be sacrificed in furtherance of someone else’s business bottom line. The pollutants that make my community’s children sicker, lower performing and suffer diminished quality of life also cost our families in elevated health care costs and increased missed days from work.
I have had enough. I am fully in support of the enforcement of the Clean Air Act and strict rules for coal-fired power plants in the name of our children and future generations to come.
[Your Name Here]
For other ways you can act for clean air, go HERE!
Click the link below to see why I care about clean air and what I am doing about it

Stepping Down From the Soapbox for now…


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