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EPA Chief: CO2 Regulations Are About ‘Justice’ For ‘Communities Of Color’

The Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed global warming regulations aren’t just about stemming global temperature rises — according to agency’s chief, they are also about “justice” for “communities of color.”

“Carbon pollution standards are an issue of justice,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy in a teleconference call with environmental activists. “If we want to protect communities of color, we need to protect them from climate change.”

McCarthy is referring to the EPA’s proposed rule that would limit carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants. The agency says the rule will not only help fight global warming, but will also improve public health as coal-fired power plants are shuttered. McCarthy, however, put special emphasis on how the rule would reduce asthma rates, which affect African-American children.

“Asthma disproportionately affects African-American kids,” McCarthy added. “In just the first year these standards go into effect, we’ll avoid up to 100,000 asthma attacks and 2,100 heart attacks — and those numbers go up from there.”

“These standards are also doing more than to just address public health. By the time these standards are fully in place in 2030, the average household will also save $8 a month on electricity and create thousands of jobs that can’t be shipped overseas,” McCarthy said.

The teleconference was hosted by the environmental group Green For All. The group bills itself as an outreach organization seeking to educate “communities of color” about fighting global warming. But Green For All also describes itself as “radical enough to push a deeply justice-based agenda.”

“Green For All acknowledges the need to disrupt the current economy, because we understand that our current economy was based upon human trafficking, the exploitation of labor, and violent racism,” according to the group’s website. “We are safe enough to be invited into spaces where power-building groups are not, and radical enough to push a deeply justice-based agenda in those spaces. We are radical enough to partner with grassroots organizations when other national groups are turned away, and enough of an ally to offer resources and support in those spaces.”

“As a black woman who suffers from asthma, I know first-hand how climate change can affect communities of color,” said Nikki Silvestri, Green For All’s executive director. “We are more susceptible to extreme weather, storms and heat-related deaths. But, I also know that we want climate action now.”

On the call, McCarthy and Green For All activists asked attendees to file regulatory comments in the support of the EPA’s carbon dioxide rule.

The rule has been heavily supported by environmental groups, who have also been using global warming as a way to extend their activist base into minority communities. The group 350.org recently published a piece trying to connect the crisis in Ferguson, Missouri to global warming.

“It was not hard for me to make the connection between the tragedy in Ferguson, Missouri, and the catalyst for my work to stop the climate crisis,” writes Deirdre Smith, strategic partnership coordinator for the environmental group 350.org.

“To me, the connection between militarized state violence, racism, and climate change was common-sense and intuitive,” she said.

But not everyone in the African-American community has gotten behind the EPA’s proposed power plant regulations.

“African-American businesses, entrepreneurs and workers need to better understand this rule because the potential impact may hit them more directly, and more severely, than any other group,” wrote Harry Alford, president of the National Black Chamber of Commerce.

“Higher energy costs could be devastating to small businesses, for which energy costs are often the highest, or one of the highest, operating expenses,” Alford wrote. “Thousands of jobs by definition will be eliminated by this rule, but the same certainty does not exist in the promise of creating new jobs.”

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