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The rallying cry “I Can’t Breathe” that has been heard and seen at protests across the country was invoked by environmental justice advocates on Tuesday in Congress because it also applies to the harmful impact of pollution being experienced by these communities, and it is especially acute in minority communities also seeing disproportionate impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic. Racial justice leaders have broadened their calls for reforms to include the systemic racism caused by high levels of air, water and waste pollution in minority neighborhoods, and citing the impacts the President’s further rollback of environmental safety regulations, monitoring, and enforcement will have on minorities. They want clean water, clean air and equal access to parks and natural spaces to be fundamental rights provided to all citizens.
Why This Matters: Under the guise of “helping” communities after the COVID crisis, the administration is making things even worse for so many Americans that are already struggling under the burden of discriminatory pollution and its cascading harms to their health and well-being. As Reverend William Barber said in an interview last weekend, it is easier for 4 million minority citizens to get a gallon of unleaded gasoline than to get a gallon of unleaded water. That is just not right.
In Their Own Words
“Black communities are dealing with the systemic racism that has infected the policing in our communities that is literally choking us to death. The rolling back of environmental rules and regulations has us gasping for air due to the cumulative public health impacts from the burning of fossil fuels,” said Mustafa Santiago Ali, with the National Wildlife Federation, who was previously a senior adviser for environmental justice at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) during the Obama administration. “When we say, ‘I Can’t Breathe’ we literally can’t breathe.”
Jacqueline Patterson, senior director of the Environmental and Climate Justice Program at the NAACP said “Once again we have a response by the administration that prioritizes protecting the profits of big corporations while comparatively neglecting to advance action at the scale and depth that truly upholds the well being of people.” “All of this combines to ensure that black indigenous and other communities are facing the harshest fallout of direct impact of Covid-19.”
Jessica Loya of Green Latinos at the same event called on Americans to urge their Members of Congress to place a nationwide moratorium on water utility shutoffs in any future COVID-19 stimulus bill and to support the Great Outdoors Act that would create better access for all communities to parks and open spaces.
To Go Deeper: Watch the full Katie Couric interview with Rev. Barber below.
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Last week was Climate Week NYC, and Third Way and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) came together to host speakers from across the country in a conversation on how thoughtful public policy can be a catalyst to empower climate innovation. The event, Meeting the Moment, featured speakers including: Lieutenant Governor of Wisconsin Mandela Barnes; Board […]
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