EPA’s unwillingness to act on pollution is especially harmful to communities of color
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In some parts of my Southern California district children are encouraged not to leave home without their inhalers. In Wilmington they share their backyards and playgrounds with oil wells. Interstate highways surround residential neighborhoods in Carson and South Gate with huge volumes of industrial traffic and emissions. Metal plating facilities in Compton are located near residential neighborhoods and emit the human carcinogen hexavalent chromium in levels that exceed federal standards. My constituents breathe in all of this pollution and, as a result, suffer higher rates of asthma and other serious respiratory problems.

Simply put, poor air quality has created a public health crisis that shows no signs of slowing down.

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Communities of color have long endured profound environmental injustice. These communities, along with low-income and rural communities, consistently face poorer air quality and higher public health risks in comparison to wealthier communities. They are also focused on making ends meet, juggling multiple jobs and finding proper childcare. This makes it difficult for them to organize in large numbers and push back when companies want to build pollution-producing factories or toxic facilities in their communities. Further, inadequate investment in public infrastructure and public health services exacerbates the unhealthy conditions these communities are forced to endure.

Research has shown that children raised in heavily polluted environments suffer from a 10 percent reduction in overall lung size—a reduction that can be permanent—as well as a higher risk of contracting asthma, bronchitis, and other respiratory diseases. Children are encouraged to avoid these irritants, but there’s nowhere for them to go. Sick and wheezing children in my district are sometimes too sick to go to school or attend all their classes. In a place where children already fall behind, this contributes to a cycle of poverty that is difficult to break.

Failing to limit air pollution will also increase the threat of health harms from climate change. Without increased action, communities across the United States face a hotter and more polluted future—and higher rates of respiratory illnesses such as asthma and chronic bronchitis, along with increased emergency room visits.

In 2016, approximately 123 million people nationwide lived in counties with pollution levels exceeding the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, which regulate pollutants common in outdoor air that are considered harmful to public health and the environment.

Making matters worse, the EPA has, under the misguided leadership of Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittAl Gore: Trump has had 'less of an impact on environment so far than I feared' Understanding EPA’s fuzzy math White House staff offered discounts at Trump's NJ golf club: report MORE, become a tool of the very industries it is tasked with regulating. Time and time again, Mr. Pruitt has worked to undermine—or outright remove—existing air quality regulations, taking steps that make it easier for polluters to degrade our air.

At a time when it feels like all of our core environmental protections are under assault, we must remind Mr. Pruitt that it is his responsibility to ensure that the basic human right of clean air is protected for all Americans, especially for the most vulnerable among us.

Millions of Americans living in low-income communities and communities of color face a litany of environmental injustices on a daily basis. They feel the impacts of poor air quality first and worst.

We must take action to reduce air pollution, now.

Nothing less than the health of our children and communities is at stake.

Barragán represent California’s 44th District and is a member of the Committee on Natural Resources.