EPA cuts will have disproportionate impact on communities of color

3/31/2017, 5:41 p.m.

President Trump’s plan to make significant cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency shows not only a lack of concern for public health and safety, but perhaps more perniciously, a lack of understanding for environmental injustices faced by minorities in Virginia and across the country.

Environmental injustice occurs when local governments and corporations build environmentally harmful roads, buildings and power supplies that negatively impact minority communities and neighborhoods.

According to the NAACP, 78 percent of African-Americans live within 30 miles of coal-fired power plants, exposing them to toxic chemicals and air pollution that cause cardiovascular disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

In Newport News, respiratory disease rates among African-Americans are nearly twice the average rate in Virginia.

Continued investments in fossil fuel production inevitably exacerbates cases in which communities of color are disproportionately burdened by environmental injustices. Among the top proponents of fossil fuel development in the United States is Koch Industries, a private corporation well known for massive investments in climate science denial and environmental injustice.

Charles and David Koch — more commonly referred to as the Koch brothers — have spent close to $90 million on efforts to deny climate science and force costly energy sources on communities. More recently, their strategy has shifted to exploit minorities living here in Virginia.

Fueling U.S. Forward, a Koch-funded campaign targeting minorities with fossil fuel propaganda, recently sponsored a host of gospel concert events around Richmond. The concerts were held in conjunction with panel discussions that argued that low-income minorities benefit most from cheap fossil fuels — an erroneous statement that is downright unethical.

In response to the Koch brothers’ blatant attack on Virginia’s minority communities, Congressman A. Donald McEachin, who represents Virginia’s 4th Congressional District, hosted an environmental justice roundtable where constituents expressed their concerns about the injustices faced by minorities in surrounding cities. The event was held in Petersburg last month and brought together environmental advocates and leaders of faith communities.

At the event, Rep. McEachin stated that communities of color are disproportionately impacted by bad public policy. Ministers in attendance suggested drafting an overall stewardship plan and left excited to bring the conversation to their congregations.

Moving forward, Rep. McEachin plans to replicate a similar response roundtable event in Hampton Roads — an area second to New Orleans most vulnerable to relative sea level rise in the country.

As we move into an era where the future of public health and environmental protections remain uncertain, it is imperative that we stand together. Virginia’s representatives have made it clear that they will not put up with these unjust actions toward Virginia’s communities.

We thank Congressman McEachin for his response to the Koch brothers’ attempt at befriending the communities they invest directly against. The next four years will present many socioeconomic challenges, but with trusted leadership in Washington and public rejection of these exploitative campaigns, we might stand a chance against the industries that currently have major influence over public policy.



The writer is a conservation organizer with the Virginia Conservation Network.