Yesterday, House Republicans eked through a vote, 217 to 213, to repeal and replace major parts of the Affordable Care Act, setting the stage for a major overhaul of our healthcare system. The GOP's American Health Care Act (AHCA) will now make its way to the Senate where several Republicans are expected to make major revisions.
One of the most contentious provisions in the AHCA would weaken protections for enrollees with pre-existing conditions. Although the new GOP bill requires insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions, states could get waivers that would allow insurers to set higher premiums for enrollees based on their medical background, essentially pricing many Americans out of coverage. And the status of your health is not just based on your current health and health history, but also other risk factors, such as environmental threats.
Environmental justice communities continue to be part of a system that creates and reinforces health disparities based on their proximity to toxic waste and pollution, and limited access to healthy foods and recreational resources. This is in addition to social inequities based on socioeconomic status, race and ethnicity, literacy and education levels, access to health services and legislative policies. The physical and social environment of people of color, tribal populations and low-income communities continuously puts them at a disadvantage when it comes to their health.
In my home state of Virginia, Richmond continues to reign as one of the nation’s top asthma capitals, even taking the top spot in 2010, 2011 and 2014. Newport News, Hopewell and Petersburg – all cities with predominantly black and Latino populations – have some of the worst air quality at public schools in the nation.
Pollution, particulates and poverty are the biggest offenders, with outdated school infrastructure playing a major role in the number of children suffering from the condition.
The American Lung Association reports the hospitalization rate for black children with asthma is twice as high as white children. Native American children have an asthma prevalence that’s almost six times higher than white children, where a large percentage are not using a daily controller medication.
There’s also cities like Flint, Michigan and the 2,000 water systems across this country that have excessive levels of lead, where many of the highest reported levels are at schools and daycares. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, at least four million households have children that are exposed to high levels of lead. Half a million children ages 1 to 5 have blood levels which demand public health action.
Let's also not forget about Cancer Alley, the 85-mile stretch between Baton Rouge and New Orleans that is home to more than 150 plants and refineries in predominantly black towns, or Kettleman City, California, a Latino community which houses the biggest toxic waste dump west of Alabama and has a high rate of birth defects and infant mortality. And then there's Emelle, Alabama – dubbed the Cadillac of Landfills – which houses the nation’s largest hazardous landfill.
Not only are our nation’s leaders rolling back environmental regulations and putting the health of Americans at greater risk, they’re also compounding the issue by making it more difficult for people to receive health care for illnesses caused by polluting industries. Most uninsured people are in low-income families, and have worse access to care than people who are insured because they don’t receive preventative care and services for chronic diseases and major health conditions. It’s a never-ending cycle for our most vulnerable populations.
The notion that a responsible person will eat right, exercise and go to the doctor regularly doesn’t work if you build a system where every American does not have access to nor can they afford good health care. Nor does it work if big corporations exploit the health of poor Americans to build waste facilities in their backyards. We’re setting them up to fail.
Today, nearly one billion people around the world will celebrate Earth Day, and tens of thousands of Americans will attend rallies and teach-ins for the March for Science.
It almost seems absurd that we even have to take to the streets to defend the role science has in our everyday lives, but alas, here we are.
There was a time when science, especially environmental issues, had bipartisan Congressional support. Emotions and politics did not overrule scientific research, and our effort as humans to better under the physical and natural world through observation and experiment was not questioned.
But somewhere along the way, many of our political leaders have steered away from evidence-based science to inform our policies. Now agencies like the EPA and NOAA face sweeping budget cuts that will harm our economy, our planet and our safety.
We know the current state of our planet: critically stressed and deteriorating because of human activity, manifesting in our climate, plant and animal species, food, the air we breathe and water we drink.
But there is hope.
Because today I see an entire global population coming together to celebrate our planet. I see citizens of the world planting trees, cleaning up rivers and teaching our children to be stewards of the environment. I am hopeful because of us. We are showing the world that science is for all.
Knowledge is power.
Research drives prosperity, both economically and socially. Science has extended our average life span, and shown us the impact of lead poisoning and how to harness the sun and wind into renewable energy sources.
There are no such things as alternative facts. Climate change is not a hoax. We know this and must double down to promote the fundamental principles of science and science literacy.
The U.S. can and should lead the world in innovations. But it takes a commitment and investment from our elected officials. If President Trump truly believes in “America First,” then we must help him see how that government funding is crucial to research and training the next generation of scientists.
Everything from genetics and botany to geology and anthropology helps drive this country. Even the military relies on science.
So when Congress introduces new legislation to undo regulations that protects our air and water, remember today and the number of people who celebrated Earth Day. When this administration blatantly denies the role of carbon dioxide in global warming, remember that scientists, and science lovers, stood up and organized a march as a sign of resistance.
Science will prevail.
On December 10 2016, Fueling U.S. Forward and Reaching America partnered with the City of Richmond and Radio One to sponsor a toy drive and holiday concert at the Trinity Family Life Center in Richmond, Va. The event had several Grammy-level gospel recording artists such as VaShawn Mitchell and Charles Jenkins, and a panel discussion on the role energy plays in their everyday life, including the holidays.
At the end of the concert, four people were randomly picked to have their most recent electric bill paid up to $250.
The majority of attendees at this event were black. It was held at a black church, had black gospel artists and was advertised through Radio One, a network with a large black listener base.
Don't think for a moment that this was a coincidence.
The Koch brothers have come up with a new approach to advancing a fossil fuel agenda. They're using low-income and minority communities to promote coal, oil and natural gas.
For more than 30 years, Charles and David Koch have provided tens of millions of dollars to groups that deny climate change and derail science-based policies that would limit carbon emissions.
In the spring of 2016, Koch launched a new PR campaign – Fueling U.S. Forward – telling low-income families that oil and natural gas is the best way out of poverty. Fueling U.S. Forward is now a nonprofit organization “dedicated to educating the public about the value and potential of American energy.” It has a $10 million-a-year campaign budget that is funded by Koch Industries.
It's the same marketing tactics and argument used by tobacco lobbyists: stricter regulations on goods would disproportionately affect low-income areas.
This time, the argument is that wealthy individuals that subsidize electric vehicles and install solar panels on their homes contribute to rising gas prices. Somehow efforts to promote clean energy and build a green economy deprives taxpayers.
Fueling U.S. Forward has hosted events aimed at getting the support of black voters, including: presenting scholarships to local high school students at a Baptist church in North Carolina and sponsoring the National Political Convention, a conference hosted by the National Policy Alliance (NPA) – a network that brings together African-American political groups.
Linda Haithcox, NPA’s executive director, said their aim is to stand up for poor and underserved communities, and that NPA’s position on energy policy hasn't changed even though they received funding from Koch Industries and other energy groups.
Unfortunately, you cannot stand up for black communities while also taking money from companies that profit from poisoning the same people.
If the NPA and other black political groups want equitable access to clean energy sources for all consumers, then it must divest from companies that promote cheap and dirty energy. Poor people and communities of color pay the price with their health for the Koch brothers and other oil and petrochemical magnates to become wealthy. Utility and energy companies pollute the air we breathe and water we drink to keep the price of energy low.
The U.S. is still a fossil fuel-based economy, yet, families already struggle with transportation costs and paying their electric bill. What exactly do black communities have to gain by publicly supporting a fossil fuel agenda? Respiratory illnesses, cancer, heart disease, birth defects and high hospital bills?
Richmond continues to reign as one of the nation’s top asthma capitals, even taking the top spot in 2010, 2011 and 2014. Pollution, particulates and poverty are the biggest offenders.
The wealthiest people in the world have the biggest carbon footprint, but the poorest are the most vulnerable.
With a governor’s race underway this year, let’s prioritize the environmental injustices happening in our own backyards. Don’t be fooled by political leaders and energy companies that say they’re keeping energy prices low for us. They’re doing it for themselves to make a profit.
There is a whitewashing in the environmental movement, where white people are framed as being the most concerned about the environment.
But a number of polls show that Asian, Latino and black communities have strong environmental values and even show more support for climate issues than whites.
American Indians are currently leading the biggest environmental activism movement with their campaign to halt construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
So why is it that environmental justice issues are not a regular part of the national conversation?
When discussing climate change, environmentalists talk about melting ice caps, an increase in natural disasters, protecting animal species and natural wonders like the Great Barrier Reef dying off.
But how often do we talk about the millions of Americans that live near a coal power plant? What about the high asthma rate of black Americans in cities because of poor air quality? Are these public health issues part of the conversation?
Environmental issues involve people fighting for access to clean water, green spaces and safe housing.
The reality is that most factories, warehouses, garbage incinerators, landfills, hazardous waste treatment facilities and disposal plants are overwhelmingly located and built in poor, non-white communities.
Low-income and communities of color are most impacted by toxic waste, pollution and urban decay. Families are forced to live in close proximity to hazardous environments because these areas are seen as sacrifice zones for big polluters.
Vulnerable populations live at the intersection of pollution, power and environmental policy, and they continue to lose. These communities lose because the balance of power is tipped towards the wealthy.
This is environmental racism.
Environmental racism is systemic. It is the result of poverty, redlining, housing discrimination and segregation that has relegated black and brown communities to some of the most dilapidated environments.
It explains the Flint, Michigan water crisis and why East Chicago residents were poisoned for 30 years before being informed of the health risks of living on an old lead smelter.
This form of racism explains why these stories aren’t covered by mainstream media outlets and why there is no public outrage over people of color being poisoned by industrial waste for generations.
There is a disconnection between who publicly cares about environmental issues and the face of people taking action on the ground.
The Navajo Nation has been fighting for years for uranium mining companies to clean up abandoned mines. You can go to Detroit, Compton, Milwaukee and the Bronx and find black leaders running community gardens and cleanup efforts. Latino communities fought to close down a lead-acid battery smelter that spewed toxic air pollution for decades in Los Angeles neighborhoods.
It is local residents that attend meetings with city officials, planners and the EPA to fight routine industrial polluters. These groups don’t always have access to the same resources and platform as mainstream organizations, but they are still environmentalists.
There's an issue with diversity within the mainstream environmental movement, where people of color, various socio-economic classes and religious groups are not being engaged by mainstream groups that are predominantly led by middle class and upper-middle class, white liberals.
Mainstream organizations can leverage their power to help environmental justice groups secure funding to build healthy communities. They can help cultivate youth from different segments through an internship pipeline to pursue a career in urban forestry, ecology, environmental resource management, soil sciences and urban planning.
A more diverse group of voices will create a stronger movement. Environmental justice cannot be an afterthought to national parks, endangered species and global climate change. It must be integrated into our policy agendas.
We cannot afford to sugarcoat the demographic of people who are being displaced from their homes because of natural disasters. We need to talk about the number of children who have lead poisoning and the policies that made it happen. We need to stop talking in the abstract and tell the stories of people whose families are being poisoned by waste and decay.
Devote more space in your newsletters and fundraising emails to environmental injustices happening to our own citizens.
Environmental issues are civil rights issues. Those with political power are able to sway environmental decisions. Let's create a path for marginalized voices to also have a national platform.
What happened in East Chicago?
The national attention Flint received may have sparked action to finally be taken in East Chicago, Indiana but there are thousands of low-income communities in the U.S. that are being poisoned because of environmental racism.
East Chicago – a predominantly Black and Latinx neighborhood – is one of those cities.
In July 2016, nearly 1,200 residents of the West Calumet Housing Complex in East Chicago received a letter from the mayor ordering them to temporarily relocate because of high levels of lead and arsenic in the soil.
Other residents of Calumet received a notice from the EPA stating how high the lead and arsenic levels were around their homes. This was based on samples taken in December 2014.
That’s right. They were informed almost two years later.
According to EPA documentation, lead levels exceeded 5,000 parts per million when the standard level allowed is 400 parts per million.
The most contaminated yards showed lead levels 227 times above the allowable limit. Arsenic levels were 135 times above its limit.
By September 1, Mayor Anthony Copeland had informed residents they were being given 60 days to find a new home as the public housing complex would be demolished. This sent hundreds of low-income families scrambling to find a place to live in an area with a limited availability of affordable housing.
Many families were required to pay for their relocation costs out of pocket before voucher and rent reimbursement.
After 60 days nearly passed, only 29 of 332 families had found alternative housing. HUD had to extend its deadline to ensure all eligible residents had access to safe housing and relocation benefits.
Today, East Chicago is grappling with dislocation, health concerns and cleanup efforts.
670 children lived in that housing complex. By the end of summer 2016, city officials confirmed that 33 children younger than 7 years old had excessive lead in their bloodstream. With lead screenings still ongoing, it’s expected that more kids have been poisoned.
The EPA has found elevated levels of lead in drinking water in 18 of the 43 homes tested in a pilot study to determine if the contaminated soil caused lead in pipes to enter the water supply. The Northwest Indiana Times is reporting that up to 90 percent of homes in East Chicago have lead in their water lines.
Members from various community groups have now organized into the East Chicago Calumet Coalition to communicate needs and questions to the EPA. They are also working with lawmakers to draft legislation that provides financial assistance to aid in cleanup and testing, the school district and residents that were forced to relocate; including homeowners that need to sell their houses.
Many are wondering how government agencies let this happen and why action wasn’t taken sooner.
Environmental advocate. Communications professional. Sports fan. I love television and press conferences.