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ATLANTA — Environmental Protection Agency leaders have something to tell African-American communities about the agency’s work on climate change: We need you.
That was the message from EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy in her first visit to the Southeast as head of the agency. McCarthy spoke at the historically black Clark Atlanta University on Thursday night, at an event hosted by the youth advocacy group Hip Hop Caucus that aimed to build support among young, black audiences for climate change action.
The EPA, McCarthy said, is “making sure we hear from those who are most vulnerable to climate change.”
“That’s an incredibly important piece of all this,” McCarthy said. “That’s one of the main reasons I am here today. We need a broad, diverse coalition of champion climate justice advocates.”
McCarthy framed the push for emission limits for new and existing power plants as an extension of President Barack Obama’s vision of improving prospects for low-income, predominantly minority communities. Those communities, McCarthy said, have been “overburdened by pollution and environmental health hazards for far too long” and are now suffering from harms caused by planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.
Black Americans are more likely to live near coal-fired power plants or in counties that exceed air pollution standards than white Americans. They also are more likely to die from stroke or heart disease, or to suffer asthma — health problems to which environmental pollution contributes.
“That pollution has become a barrier to their economic opportunity, and their ability to get what middle-class security they deserve to be able to achieve,” McCarthy said. “You can’t ensure environmental justice, and we can’t deliver on this president’s promise of opportunity for all, without giving people clean air and clean water and clean land to live on. You cannot climb a ladder of opportunity without those vital components that are necessary for healthy living.”