At Moms Clean Air Force, we are amplifying critical voices in the fight for Black lives. To commemorate Juneteenth — the oldest nationally-observed commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States (June 19, 1865) — our Community Rx program convened a conversation to address equity, justice, and climate in the African American community. We invite you to have a listen here to this moving and powerful discussion. The “Let us Breathe” dialogue with environmental justice luminaries from around the country focuses on how air pollution, climate change, and COVID-19 disproportionately impact the African American community and what should be done to address these deep and systemic issues. A clip of this conversation found its way into the popular Pod Save the People podcast here (starts at 14:00).
THE RACIAL INJUSTICE OF BREATHING DIRTY AIR
Writing in the opinion section of the Houston Chronicle, Catherine Flowers, our Texas field organizer, shares why the “I can’t breathe” pleas of George Floyd echo not only those of Eric Garner in New York City in 2014 but also the calls to action of environmental justice leaders: “It’s not just police brutality. Black communities have been saying for decades that we can’t breathe for another reason as well — for having to live with a disproportionate burden of air pollution and other environmental injustices that lead to higher rates of lung and heart disease, even cancer.” Catherine says she is compelled to speak out because Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) isn’t working for communities like Floyd’s — nor hers in Houston, which is among the most polluted cities in the nation: “The EPA is working overtime to deregulate industries in ways that increase air pollution, harming communities of color and low-income communities where COVID-19 is disproportionately killing black people, Indigenous people, and other people of color.” Catherine also takes aim at a recent proposal by EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler to refuse to strengthen the current national standards for particle pollution, or deadly soot: “With the EPA’s refusal to update particle pollution standards, the agency is poised to harm the very people who can least afford it — namely, communities of color.”
New York Times climate reporter Lisa Friedman spoke to Heather McTeer Toney, our national field director, for her article “The Environmental Justice Wake-Up Call,” about the weeks of civil unrest following the killing of George Floyd: “Activists who have worked for decades on environmental justice said they were pleased to see the issue gaining attention in Washington. But they also said it’s important for policymakers to understand that addressing environmental vulnerability is not distinct from problems of police brutality, health disparities or other racial inequities.” Heather said, “‘We’re talking about racial inequities and other injustices across the spectrum… We’re not just talking about one thing, which is why it’s a special moment.’ [Heather] also called this moment a wake-up call for climate advocacy groups, which are still overwhelmingly white, to learn to help communities of color achieve their environmental and energy goals rather than simply encouraging those communities to join broader national campaigns.”
Living on Earth with Steve Curwood interviewed Heather at length about her views on the environmental justice movement for a weekly broadcast that reaches hundreds of public radio stations throughout the country. Heather addresses the complexity of the issues we must confront in this moment: “Protesting about the racial injustice we’re experiencing and turning that into political power puts people in office that want to see social justice change in both the environmental community, in the policing community, in the educational community, in the housing community, and understanding that all of these are linked together.”
OUR OPPOSITION TO DEADLY SOOT
Melissa Nootz, our Montana field organizer, made a personal plea in the Billings Gazette for why we need to strengthen standards for particle pollution. Writing as a guest columnist for the newspaper, Melissa connects the experience of being pregnant in Missoula (one of the top twenty most polluted cities in the country for particle pollution) during the 2007 wildfires with her activism today: “I remember often waking to a fresh layer of charred pine needles and ash on nearly everything it could reach. My morning sickness was so aggravated by the poor air quality that my throat was bleeding from irritation. […] While I was pregnant, my lungs couldn’t escape the air from the wildfire season; after my daughter was born my lungs couldn’t escape dirty air trapped during inversions.” Melissa doesn’t mince words in exposing the cowardice of Trump’s EPA: “If Administrator Wheeler would heed his agency’s mission to protect human health and the environment, he would follow the science and strengthen particle pollution standards. Unfortunately, moves like this make it clear that Administrator Wheeler does not have our best interests – nor the EPA’s mission – in mind.” In closing, Melissa issues this warning: “Now more than ever, we need strong protections for particle pollution. Our kids deserve to breathe clean air and live lives unhindered by preventable respiratory complications. Administrator Wheeler should do his job and uphold the EPA’s mission, or cede leadership to someone who will.”
EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler’s refusal to strengthen particle pollution standards will harm communities of color most, a fact not lost on the DeSmog news site, which noted that Moms Clean Air Force is one of the few organizations calling out this proposal as part of an overtly racist agenda. The article also ran an impassioned tweet from Heather McTeer Toney, our national field director: “Not strengthening national standards for this pollution will have a deadly & devastating effect on families, especially in my home state of Mississippi.”
BLACK MOTHERS AND AIR POLLUTION: AN UNEQUAL BURDEN
Speaking to the New York Times about an important new study examining how climate change and air pollution affect pregnant mothers and their children, Texas field organizer Catherine Flowers addresses the racial disparity uncovered by the new research: “This is a moment of reckoning for racial injustice and health disparities. Doing nothing about air pollution, which so clearly has a greater impact on Black Americans, is racism in action.” The study, which was published in in JAMA Network Open, part of the Journal of the American Medical Association, underscores the need for more protective federal standards for air pollution.
Catherine’s quote was echoed in a news article on Black maternal heath published by The Root.
PENNSYLVANIA’S METHANE RULE WILL PROTECT PUBLIC HEALTH
Patrice Tomcik, project manager of state campaigns at Moms Clean Air Force, spoke to Pennsylvania’s Public News Service about participating in a virtual hearing on a proposed methane emissions rule in the state: “Cutting methane pollution will help reduce the impacts of climate change,” she said, “and cutting volatile organic compounds will improve air quality and public health, which is really important right now.”
SHOUT-OUTS AND MURMURS
Speaking to climate activist Bill McKibben for his The New Yorker column, Jane Fonda mused on her favorite moments from Fire Drill Fridays – her weekly series of civil-disobedience actions. Jane recalls December 20th: “We were marching to the Hart Senate Building, to do a sit-in. I looked around, and there was the Reverend William Barber II, Ai-jen Poo, Gloria Steinem, Dolores Huerta, and Heather McTeer Toney [Moms Clean Air Force national field director], all of us marching together, all those leaders of major movements coming together for climate. That felt new.”
Moms Clean Air Force member and Indiana resident Tara Adams spoke to Northwest Indiana Times about her relentless push-back against EPA-proposed limits on lead dust that don’t go far enough to protect her family. Tara, a single mother of three, says her children were unknowingly exposed to toxins in the soil at the housing complex where she lived for more than a decade. Tara recalls a trip to Washington, D.C., during which Moms Clean Air Force partnered with Rebel Bells Collective, a local organization that teaches young girls about social justice, to meet with Indiana’s congressional leaders and staff, as one step on the path she took to become a community leader on this issue. “Tara Adams never expected to land the role she now plays in the city’s lead crisis: A leader, unapologetic in her pursuit to protect future East Chicago children, unshaken in her fight to hold industry and local, state and federal government officials accountable.”