Click here to go to the Home Page Racial Disparities in Air Quality By James E. Harris, President, NAACP New Jersey State Conference, Guest Commentator

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As the NAACP State Conference President for New Jersey I am responsible for hearing and addressing all types of concerns. In New Jersey far too many of the complaints I hear relate to deprivation of what should be a basic human right for all, the right to breathe clean air.

The racial disparities in air quality lead to disparities in health and quality of life. An African American making $50,000 per year is more likely to live in an area cited for bad air pollution than a white American making $15,000 per year. Arsenic, dioxins, lead, mercury and other pollutants are spewed daily from various industrial facilities such as incinerators, power plants, factories, etc., putting people at risk across the country.  For example, a Clean Air Taskforce report on power plant pollution found that emissions from all power plants in the U.S. are responsible for 30,000 premature deaths, 7,000 asthma-related emergency room visits, and 18,000 cases of chronic bronchitis each year.

When opponents denounce safeguards against pollution, such as the Clean Air Act and associated regulations with labels such as “job killing”, they disregard the high monetary cost of inaction and who is paying those costs. Consumers are already paying for the less-publicized costs of toxic air quality: mounting health expenses, lost days of school to care for sick kids, poor performance for lead exposed kids who have learning challenges, lost days of work due to illness and trips to take children to the doctor, etc.

Currently, regulations under the Clean Air Act, such as the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule and the Mercury and Air Toxics Rule which aim to reduce pollution in our air, are under attack by polluters and certain legislative initiatives in Congress aimed at blocking the functionality of the Clean Air Act. These rules are essential for sensible reductions in air pollution. Supporting these rules would save up to 1200 lives and will prevent heart attacks, hospitalizations, and ER visits in New Jersey every year.

Robert, a resident of Jersey City, NJ recently stated that,

“I think that the community members in the area should be informed and that the media should really take a look at the kinds of emissions that have been happening, because nobody wants to raise their children next to a coal plant like that.  The emissions in this community are so off the charts and so astronomically dangerous for human health that I think that once there’s some light shed on what is really going on with the likes of things like this coal plant, I hope that will raise awareness about this, stop these emissions in Jersey, and really do a lot more to clean up our environment.”

In New Jersey, with more Superfund sites than any other state in the country, we vigorously oppose any effort to fight any operations that would increase the already overburdened pollution that would diminish the air quality.  It is unfortunate and unjust that so many of the air quality distracters are placed in areas that are overwhelmingly populated by African Americans and other poor populations in New Jersey.  We vigorously oppose any operation that would erode the quality of clean air in New Jersey, it is simply unacceptable.  We in the New Jersey State Conference will work with any and all collaborators who advocate for cleaner air quality in New Jersey.

Opposing the implementation of the Clean Air Act and its associated regulations would limit the EPA’s ability to enforce clean air standards that protect us from significant amounts of harmful air pollution. Our focus must be on retaining and strengthening safeguards which protect the health and well-being of the people living in communities affected by air pollution, who are over 50% of the US public and disproportionately communities of color and low income communities.

Enough is enough. We must maintain existing safeguards, as well as implement and strengthen standards that protect our communities. The NAACP New Jersey State Conference of Branches strongly urges our Senators and Representatives to support clean air safeguards and oppose proposed measures in Congress that put their constituents at risk.

Let New Jersey lead the way to cleaner air. Guest Commentator James E. Harris is President of the NAACP New Jersey State Conference.  Click here to contact Mr. Harris.

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Jan 5, 2012 - Issue 453
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