Speak up for environmental justice

9/29/2017, 7:39 a.m.
Equity, understanding, morality and justice are at the foundation of any society. Unfortunately, here in the United States, society is ...

Ahlia Bethea

Equity, understanding, morality and justice are at the foundation of any society. Unfortunately, here in the United States, society is being revisited by the more visible public manifestations of the systems of oppression that our country was built on.

From acts of domestic terrorism by the Ku Klux Klan and white supremacist groups to the elimination of federal policies that were created to protect our most vulnerable communities, the election of President Trump was an egregious display of the power of hate, particularly when it is harnessed to segregate and isolate communities.

As a young woman of color and aspiring environmental lawyer, I am proud to work for the Sierra Club during a time when this environmental organization is expanding its focus to draw parallels between the different faces of oppressive roots.

The Sierra Club traditionally has focused on preserving the wilderness and getting people to explore the outdoors. However, environmental racism is an important reality to address when fighting to preserve and protect our planet.

The fact that communities of color must defend against a myriad of threats hits close to home. My father grew up in a food desert and my mother’s childhood swimming hole was contaminated by a neighboring factory’s pollution.

Following the terror attack in Charlottesville, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement that “hatred and racism have long played a disgraceful part of American history, but there can be no doubt that those who spew white supremacy feel empowered right now when they see allies in the corridors of power. These bigots must be condemned, not coddled, and we are in solidarity with those elected officials, residents of Charlottesville and people all over this country who are speaking out for an America that pushes forward toward justice, not sliding backward into hatred and fear.”

Now is the time when communities of color and their allies are standing up and continuing the work of our ancestors to speak out against this fear and this hatred. We are elevating our voices to speak for justice, including environmental justice.

People are speaking up and saying that it is not right that African-American and Latino babies are being rushed to the emergency room for asthma attacks at a higher rate than their white peers. It is not right that low-income communities of color are denied access to clean drinking water like we saw in Flint, Mich.

It is not right that indigenous communities are having their land stolen from them for the benefits of fossil fuel domination like we saw with the Dakota Access Pipeline, or the Union Hill community that was founded by freedmen in Buckingham County with the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. It is not right that communities of color are on the front lines of climate destruction like those killed and scattered across the country by natural disasters like hurricanes Katrina and Harvey.

By examining President Trump’s budget, one can decipher what his administration values. He is putting his big polluter buddies over the interests of the people. These values don’t include our children’s health or the protection of our environment. The president’s proposed budget reduces the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s resources by 31 percent. The EPA’s environmental justice program is one of many aspects of the agency that the president is trying to eliminate.