Black Leaders Oppose EPA Smog Rules
The administration is slated to tighten the restrictions for ozone, the pollutant that causes smog, by Oct. 1, but some African-American state and local politicians are lining up with business groups to warn that the clampdown would hurt poor communities and manufacturing centers like Gary, Ind., and St. Louis.
Those local and state officials say they are still trying to comply with the ozone requirements that were issued by George W. Bush’s EPA in 2008, and a stricter standard would inflict more pain on their struggling economies and stifle job growth.
“There has to be balance in the application of this policy, particularly when you look at the fact that the standard was recently changed and that industry, particularly the steel industry, have worked hard to achieve the standards and have some challenges in their efforts to achieve the standards,” Gary’s mayor, Karen Freeman-Wilson, told POLITICO.
At issue is whether the EPA regulations designed to improve public health will choke off the manufacturing operations in poor, minority areas that are often among the most polluted in nation and tend to lack access to quality healthcare. Improving the air quality and environmental protections in those places is a priority for Obama’s EPA, which has made “environmental justice” a top goal.
Obama has often shrugged off criticism from conservatives and business groups that his environmental regulations would be a drag on the overall economy, arguing instead that they would stimulate a green industry. And he’s derided critics of his climate and air pollution agenda for using scare tactics and “stale arguments” to claim that stronger regulations will harm minority and low-income communities.
“[I]f you care about low-income, minority communities, start protecting the air that they breathe, and stop trying to rob them of their health care,” Obama said at an Aug. 3 event where he rolled out EPA’s greenhouse gas restrictions for power plants. “Whenever America has set clear rules and smarter standards for our air, our water, our children’s health, we get the same scary stories about killing jobs and businesses and freedom.”
That’s a position supported by powerful black groups like the NAACP, as well as black members of Congress like [Progressive Caucus Co-Chair Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Texas Democrats Sheila Jackson Lee and Eddie Bernice Johnson.
“We understand the skittishness and concerns among many of our local politicians,” said Hilary Shelton, director of NAACP’s Washington bureau and senior vice president for advocacy and policy. But these same critical officials will “see in the longer run the need to make sure our children are safe, secure and healthy so they can more actively participate in our society.”
Still, the arguments against the new smog rules may be harder to dismiss when coming from local and state officials who represent the areas that are the target of the environmental efforts to reduce pollution — and who have been staunch supporters of Obama in the past, such as Democratic Missouri state Sen. Jamilah Nasheed.
“I know I speak for the vast majority of my 5th District constituents here in St. Louis when I say I appreciate the job President Obama has done, especially the moral leadership he showed in the face of racial tragedies in Ferguson and other communities over the past year,” Nasheed, who is black, wrote to Obama senior adviser Brian Deese in July.
But lowering the ozone threshold too far would make things worse for a city like St. Louis that is “still feeling the pain of the 2007-2009 recession,” Nasheed said, and would hurt employment and “create new hardships for already struggling low-income urban families.”
While the opposition isn’t universal among black officials in cities and states, it has been supported by several groups, such as the African American Mayors Association, as well as the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the National League of Cities, the National Association of Counties and the National Association of Regional Councils, which have asked for the new ozone pollution rule to be put on hold.
Freeman-Wilson, Gary’s first female African-American mayor, had originally backed EPA’s plan to lower the ozone limits. But she changed her mind after 300 residents were laid off and the city lost significant tax revenue from the closure of a U.S. Steel coke plant.
“From a public health perspective, the benefits gained from improving air quality are greater than any cost associated with a higher standard,” she said in an op-ed explaining her change of heart. “Then the bleeding started in my own front yard.”
Some black politicians say they fear the new regulations will go too far, and that even the rules in place now are difficult to meet. That echoes the arguments made by the National Association of Manufacturers, which has launched a multimillion dollar campaign against a tighter ozone standard.
Democratic Pennsylvania state Rep. Jake Wheatley, who is black and represents Pittsburgh, said he has heard from both environmentalists who support a tighter rule and also local business leaders who worry that tougher smog standards will hurt his district’s effort to build facility that would process oil and gas from the Marcellus Shale.
“It could be a major economic boon,” Wheatley said. “So it’s a balancing act for me.”
Columbia, S.C., Mayor Steve Benjamin, who is also president of the African American Mayors Association, said in a letter to Obama late last month that many localities are struggling to pinpoint the sources of the ozone pollution and put in place measures to bring them into compliance with the existing rule.
And even in areas where the source of the pollution is easier to identify, “mayors, county officials and governors still face the challenge of curtailing ozone while expanding the industrial production, construction, and infrastructure projects that create jobs and grow our tax base,” he wrote.
Reposted by Reagangirl.com 9/11/15