What One Congressman Thinks of Environmental Justice

By Yessenia Funes Apr 24, 2017

All around the country, communities of color are subject to environmental injustice. Oil refineries, power plants and extraction sites spew toxic gases and metals into the air and drinking water.

And one congressman is over it.

New Jersey Rep. Donald Payne Jr. penned a column for BlackPressUSA.com on Earth Day (April 22) where he called for environmental justice to become a national priority. “For decades, African-American communities in urban areas have been treated as dumping grounds for pollutants at the expense of community members, the environment and the economy,” Payne writes. “The effects are felt every single day.”

Payne represents Newark, New Jersey, the first city to pass an environmental justice ordinance that requires city developers requesting environmental permits to provide the city with the project’s potential environmental impacts to protect all its residents, regardless of race. Payne writes:

Newark residents face the nation’s second greatest cancer risk due to diesel emissions. Asthma is now the leading cause of absenteeism for school-age children in Newark, Bayonne and Elizabeth, New Jersey. According to the Village Voice, “One in four Newark children suffers from asthma; the hospitalization rate is 150 percent greater for kids living in the city than in the rest of the state, and more than thirty times the rate nationwide.”

Environmental injustice, of course, is not unique to Newark. In the United States, 13 million people, including 3.5 million children, are concentrated in the vicinity of transportation facilities and are exposed to unhealthy levels of air pollution from busy diesel trucking routes, ocean-going vessels, cargo handling equipment, railroad locomotives, and cargo handling equipment. Across the nation, communities of color suffer from higher rates of exposure to air pollution, higher rates of lead poisoning, and higher rates of water pollution. This is made even worse by their lack of equal and meaningful access to the environmental decision-making process.

The congressman acknowledges that these circumstances can’t change unless there is public outcry, especially now that the Trump administration is rolling back environmental policy and protection. “The positions and policies of the Trump Administration are a direct threat to the health of African-American communities,” Payne writes. “Their anti-science, anti-environmental regulation will only exacerbate the environmental threats that disproportionately impact African-Americans, from climate change to harmful exposure to toxic substances.”

He calls on the public to demand change from their representatives. Read the column in full here.