Article by Mustafa Santiago Ali
The road the Trump Administration is taking us down puts us full-speed in reverse to a time when rivers caught fire and air pollution darkened the skies
The Trump administration is using a deliberate and systematic approachto undermine, weaken and disempower America’s most vulnerable communities. The Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed budget cuts are a clear-cut example of this attack. The cuts will gravely reduce the ability to enhance communities across the United States – including low-income communities made up of white, black, Latino, indigenous and Asian Americans, in urban and rural settings alike.
As Trump’s appointed leader of the EPA gets set to testify on Capitol Hill on Thursday, it is important to understand the consequences of the actions they want to take. The bottom line is that real people will get sick and many will prematurely die. Communities, particularly our most vulnerable, will greatly suffer if these cuts happen.
The road the Trump administration is taking us down puts us full-speed in reverse. Almost like a scene from Back to the Future, their actions would embrace a time when rivers caught fire and air pollution darkened the skies over our cities. A time when many communities of color were relegated to the back of the bus, and their voices did not have an influence in the decision-making process. Yep, the good ol’ days were actually not so good for many of our citizens.
It is no secret on where the Trump administration is getting their ideas. They are running a systematic playbook put together by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative thinktank that has been around since the 1980s and is well funded by the infamous Koch brothers, among other individuals and corporations.
Their main office is just steps from the United States Capitol and the halls of Congress, where they wield unparalleled influence. Executing this gameplan is a far cry from the “help the little guy” and “drain the swamp” mantra the president continues to tout. If you want to see what they will try to do next, just take a look at their report.
The EPA’s proposed 2018 budget slashes protections, and slashes the workforce made up of good and honest people working long and difficult hours to uphold them. These protections are in place for a reason, each having been thoroughly developed after years of public input from millions of individuals across the United States.
They are in place to protect us from harmful air and water impacts from industry polluters. They are there to responsibly clean up and enhance designated toxic areas. And they are there to protect us from the deadly impacts of climate change happening now and lessening these impacts for our kids in the future. In essence, these protections are in place for people and made by the people.
One of the initiatives the proposed budget takes a major axe to is the EPA’s brownfields job training program, which couples workforce development with environmental cleanup efforts in communities burdened with a legacy of industrial pollution.
Take Detroit, where a local group called the Green Door Initiative utilized EPA’s program to create a technician jobs training program in 2011. Their training allowed their community to address extreme unemployment and underemployment among African American men in particular, while at the same time addressing high levels of pollution.
The training turned over 200 individuals with structural barriers to employment into assets for their local economy and providers for their families. This initiative continues to pay dividends to this local community by ridding the city of problematic toxic land and creating jobs for members of this vulnerable community.
Among other consequences, the proposed elimination of EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice (my former office) will disempower our most vulnerable, like the Southeast Community in Newport News, Virginia.
For decades, this community has faced dire air quality thanks to a local power plant pumping coal-dust into the atmosphere. A few years ago they were able to take an EPA environmental justice small grant and turn it into a multi-year advocacy campaign to raise awareness and establish a scientific footing for concerns about the neighborhood’s disproportionate asthma rates.
This grant funding taught the community how to better protect their health and also enhance the Southeast Asthma Network, allowing for greater reach, with the addition of new partnerships and shared resources.
These programs pay big dividends for local communities. Spartanburg, South Carolina, is undergoing a transformation from a contaminated, low-income area into a livable and vibrant community. In 1998, EPA awarded the community a $20,000 grant. The community has leveraged that into more than $270m in private and public funding through partnerships with more than 140 organizations.
Much of this work has been led by local leader, Harold Mitchell, who started a Spartanburg non-profit organization called the ReGenesis Project. ReGenesis worked with government and industry to clean-up the Arkwright municipal dumpsite, a former fertilizer plant, and six brownfield and Superfund sites.
They demolished 184 substandard public housing units and built more than 500 new, single-family and multi-family units for rental and homeownership. The community has seen the addition of community health centers, job training and employment programs and increased retail development. The community is also launching a 35-acre solar farm, which will create job opportunities and lower electricity bills for local residents.
What we are currently seeing from the Trump administration is a disconnect from what hard working everyday citizens are asking for and a strategic approach that is extinguishing the hope of our most vulnerable communities. While we should be providing them with upward mobility, this administration is removing basic protections and opportunities for our fellow humans and countrymen.
I know these programs work. I have seen it across communities of all colors and creeds. Let’s focus on revitalizing our most vulnerable communities. We have an incredible opportunity to support the vision of these communities and focus on building them up, strengthening our country from the ground up. We need to do everything we can to lift our most vulnerable communities and move them from surviving to thriving.