The Trump administration’s continued efforts to roll back environmental regulations has weakened clean air standards and climate change rules. This administration’s latest measures have removed the requirement for environmental reviews before infrastructure is built, and to limit air pollution control where the cost benefit isn’t deemed worthwhile.
Both these efforts create an institutional engine of pollution that affects minority communities more than others.
According to the New York Times, Trump aims to lessen the impact of public health arguments against the removal of clean air and climate change rules.
“Mr. Trump’s executive order would use “emergency authorities” to waive parts of the cornerstone National Environmental Policy Act to spur the construction of highways, pipelines and other infrastructure projects,” the NYT reports. “Environmental activists and lawyers questioned the legality of the move and accused the administration of using the coronavirus pandemic and national unrest to speed up actions that have been moving slowly through the regulatory process.”
“It shows again that they have no respect for the lives in these communities that are already overburdened,” Mustafa Santiago Ali, a member of the National Wildlife Federation and previous senior adviser for environmental justice at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) during the Obama administration, told The Hill. “Trump’s actions put a spotlight on black lives don’t matter.”
For years, scientists have pointed to higher concentrations of air pollution in and around black, Latino, and Native American communities when determining how to design environmental standards. In 2018, the EPA’s own experts published a study that illustrated this in even greater contrast.
“Poor and minority groups experience unusually high exposures in home and neighborhood,” the experts wrote. “They are also disproportionately affected by hazardous occupational exposures. Recent immigrants have low-paying, nonunion, and hazardous jobs, occupy crowded and deteriorating housing, experience economic and social stressors, and have less access to information and health care. They are disproportionately exposed at work and are more likely to bring chemicals home on their clothing than workers in factories with strong unions, who change out of work clothes and shower before leaving work.”
Studies on chemical waste have found the same increased risks around minority and low-income communities. Some of these communities have been irreparably harmed by the environmental fallout that inevitably accompanies chemical exposure.
On the The Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota, the battle over the Dakota Access Pipeline roiled for over a year before newly-elected president Trump reversed the previous administration’s reprieve on the pipeline, and tapped the National Guard and regional police to remove protesters.
The Standing Rock Sioux and their allies were concerned the pipeline would endanger their water supply. They weren’t wrong. The Dakota Access pipeline leaked no less than five times in 2017, one rupture leaving 168 gallons of oil seeping into the earth in Patoka, Illinois.
In Flint, Michigan, a lack of environmental and governmental oversight left residents suffering from health issues related to contaminated drinking water. Former Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s attempt to save Flint $15 million on its water bills turned into a $1.5 billion clean-up bill, CNN reports.
“Would more have been done, and at a much faster pace, if nearly 40 percent of Flint residents were not living below the poverty line? The answer is unequivocally yes,” the NAACP said in a statement.
A lack of access to clean drinking water also increases the impact of COVID-19 infections on a community. According to Outside, the Navajo Nation has the highest rate of COVID-19 infection in the US, largely due to the lack of resources and infrastructure found in white communities.
“The crisis has been exacerbated by tight living quarters, and there are high rates of health issues, like asthma, cancer, and cardiovascular disease, among residents,” Outside reports. “All of those problems are tied on some level to federal neglect or exclusion from resources and stalled or missing funding. Most recently, $600 million in COVID-19 relief aid was delayed by more than a month; the money finally arrived in early May.”
Meanwhile, Trump maintains that the recent environmental rule changes increase opportunity for economic growth.
“From the beginning of my Administration, I have focused on reforming and streamlining an outdated regulatory system that has held back our economy with needless paperwork and costly delays,” he said in an order. “The need for continued progress in this streamlining effort is all the more acute now, due to the ongoing economic crisis.”
As this administration has regularly shut out opinions from environmental scientists, however, economic growth is being favored over the health and safety of American citizens.
“If you’re not doing a full National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis, you know, an environmental impact statement, then you have no idea one, about what the impacts are, and two, how to put the proper mitigations in place to keep people safe,” Ali said.
“So once again, it is literally placing profit over people, and the economy over people. And there is a way of balancing out both. If you’re willing to do the work.”
Learn more in the video below.
Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.