As a woman of color, I applaud the organizing efforts budding in Virginia to bridge and connect environmental justice communities across the state.
Communities of color are disproportionately harmed by climate change, as seen in the struggles faced in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, which killed almost 2,000 people, most of whom were black. According to which estimate you use, the Hurricane Katrina mortality rate for African American adults ranged from 1.7 to 4 times higher than for Caucasian adults.
During the tail end of Black History Month, a diverse coalition gathered to call for action on environmental justice issues plaguing communities across Hampton Roads and the Commonwealth. Community leaders discussed the historical legacy of pollution affecting people of color and low-income communities and strategized action plans to raise awareness and address community concerns.
U.S. Representative Bobby Scott, State Delegate Marcia Price (D-95th District) and a staffer for State Senator Mamie Locke (D-2nd District), chairwoman of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, were in attendance to show their support.
“We owe it to all communities, from those in Flint, Michigan to those in Hampton Roads, to ensure that no one is denied the opportunity to live in a clean and safe environment free from polluted water, air, or the increasing threat of rising seas,” said Representative Bobby Scott, championing the voices of the gathered community leaders.
In light of the ongoing health and environmental crisis in Flint, Michigan, community representatives highlighted issues of environmental injustices presently impacting families across Virginia. From the Appalachian coal regions of southwestern Virginia to the poultry and agricultural farms on the Eastern Shore, groups gathered to discuss concerns and collaborate on possible solutions to protecting public health and safety.
The community event was held in the Southeast Community of Newport News, where the legacy of industrialization dates back to 1880, 1890, and 1892, respectively, with the creation of the Old Dominion Land Company (ODLC), the Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company, and the infamous Coal Pier. Because of this legacy, coupled with the current environmental backdrop of various industrial developments, port facilities and highways operating within, residents continue to voice concerns and raise questions regarding the impacts of toxic pollutant exposure on the environment and the health of citizens, especially in light of high rates of respiratory disease in the community.
The Clean Power Plan provides an opportunity to address existing inequality. Reductions in pollution from dirty coal plants will benefit the fence-line communities nearby. We have the chance to address long standing health and economic inequities in our state and to shift power from big utility companies to the people. Climate justice is about racial and economic justice. A Virginia Clean Power Plan can create economic opportunity through new energy efficiency, offshore wind energy and solar jobs, increased investment in renewable energy for low income communities, job training opportunities, and transition assistance for the southwestern part of our state.
It’s time for our leadership in Virginia to come to terms with the fact that Hampton Roads is the second most vulnerable area to sea level rise and storm surge in the United States, right after New Orleans. Climate disruption is impacting Virginia communities right now. We need an urgent transition to a clean energy economy and to embrace the Clean Power Plan. Not only do we need to mitigate our emissions, but we also need to make sure that we have in place life-saving emergency preparedness measures so we are ready when the next hurricane strikes. Virginia should move forward with the aim of becoming a nationwide example of engaging minority communities in the planning processes for addressing environmental justice issues such as the Clean Power Plan.