Recent reports confirm what many people already feel: industry’s releases of toxic pollution are disproportionately located in low-income communities and communities of color. According to a recent NAACP report Coal Blooded, nearly six million Americans live within three miles of a coal power plant. And over 127 million people live in counties that received an F for pollution, according to the American Lung Association’s State of the Air report.
Race-based disparities are present in 9 out of the 10 EPA regions (all except Region 3), and the worst polluters often site themselves in poor neighborhoods. The reasons are several—cheaper land, more space, and sadly, less powerful political opposition. Wealthy communities, from Beverly Hills to Georgetown have the resources and the political clout that goes with it to keep out undesirable industrial presence.
But everyone needs the services provided by polluting industries—land fills, sewage treatment plants, power plants, oil refineries, manufacturing plants. So rather than dump pollutants in someone else’s backyard, let’s reflect on how to minimize and distribute the remaining pollution more fairly. Lowering pollution and fairness go hand-in-hand—if the burden of pollution is spread more evenly, there’s more political will to reduce it.
Many industries may never be pollution-free, but they can be a lot cleaner and we should not limit our expectations of what improvements technology can achieve, if we demand these changes. Improving efficiency, updating equipment to reflect the latest developments in clean technology and pollution control technology are growing industries and more improvement is on the horizon.
Protecting the Clean Air Act is an important part of driving that improvement, but everyone from city councils to state air boards to company executives can do their part to make sure that the standard of living we have come to expect does not make our air unsafe to breathe or destroy the health of families living in industry’s shadow.