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Here’s How The Clean Air You Breathe Is Being Threatened By Trump And Wheeler’s Dirty Plans

"Black children are 4.5 times more likely to be hospitalized for asthma, and 10 times more likely to die from asthma than white children."

When we talk about someone taking our breath away, we think about the performances from Black Panther, Serena Williams serving a maximum force ace or Beyoncé celebrating HBCUs at Coachella with step routines and a drum line. But with the Trump administration in charge of our communities’ health, our breath being taken away has taken on new and dangerous meanings.

Under President Trump and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler’s toxic agenda, Black and brown communities are at risk of more asthma attacks, hospital visits and increased rates of premature death due to this administration’s attempts to dismantle common sense pollution protections like the Clean Power Plan, the clean car standards and federal mercury pollution standards.

Attacking these lifesaving protections is an environmental justice issue because low-income communities, Black and brown communities, and other marginalized groups bear a disproportionate burden from the effects of pollution. Black children are 4.5 times more likely to be hospitalized for asthma, and 10 times more likely to die from asthma than white children. Moreover, there is a growing body of evidence that exposure to particulate pollution during development can lead to cardiac dysfunction during adulthood. Even EPA scientists recognize the health impact pollution has on Black lives, finding that when it comes to particulate air pollution – which is linked to premature death in people with heart or lung disease, irregular heartbeats (that may result in heart failure) and decreased lung function — the health burden on African Americans is 54% higher than the health burden on the American population overall.

Perhaps the most significant blow to the health of Black communities is EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler’s poison plan to dismantle the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS). These protections help safeguard our communities against mercury, soot, and other deadly toxicants from coal and oil-burning power plants. The EPA estimates that the protections prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths, 130,000 asthma attacks and 4,700 heart attacks annually. Sabotaging these lifesaving protections would be particularly detrimental to the health of pregnant women, infants and children, as mercury pollution has been linked with damage to the brain, nervous system and fetal development. Additionally, 68% of African Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant, and more than 6.7 million live in a county that is home to a refinery. Given that Black and brown communities have suffered for decades from toxic exposure due to where we live, learn, earn and play, Administrator Wheeler’s poison plan will leave our communities breathless.

I know the EPA can do better. I worked in the EPA Office of Children’s Health Protection under the Obama administration, where I gained an understanding of the horrendous disparities that pollution creates among our children. I also saw where opportunities exist to improve those health disparities. Those opportunities still exist if the EPA took more time to fully evaluate the health risks associated with rescinding pollution protections instead of rushing to dismantle them. Why put people’s health before the interests of corporate polluters? Perhaps it is because Administrator Wheeler served as a lobbyist for the coal industry prior to joining the EPA.

Fighting this poison plan is about protecting our civil right to environmental protection and environmental justice. We must demand our Members of Congress speak out against Administrator Wheeler’s proposal to dismantle the federal mercury standards. It’s a matter of life and breath. EPA is rushing to weaken this regulation; communities have until Wednesday, April 17 to tell the Trump administration that you oppose this deadly proposal. There are many organizations with resources to help you send a quick note including Moms Clean Air Force, WEACT for Environmental Justice and NAACP Environmental and Justice Program.

From fighting against voter suppression to advocating for civil rights, prison reform, economic equality, immigration and clean water, our social advocacy agenda is full. I get it. But we don’t have time to wait for the next president or the next generation to do the right thing. The Trump administration and his EPA administrator are not only ignoring our health, our safety and our environment, but getting rid of critical health protective policies to the detriment of our communities and our future. We must help end the burden of breathing polluted air now. We must help our communities breathe easier, and live healthier and longer lives. Then we can spend more time experiencing those breath-taking moments that entertain, inspire and uplift us. 

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Michelle Mabson is a Staff Scientist for the Healthy Communities program at Earthjustice, based in Washington, D.C. Mabson is also the volunteer Chief Advocacy Officer for Black Millennials for Flint, a D.C.-based grassroots environmental justice group working to reduce lead exposure in black and brown communities, and is a member of the NAACP’s Climate and Environmental Justice Committee.