Moral obligation to vulnerable communities means protecting clean car standards

Moral obligation to vulnerable communities means protecting clean car standards

If the recent United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report is any indication, we have our work cut out for us to ensure a healthy planet for future generations.

The report makes clear that urgent action is needed in order to limit the effects of climate change, including drought, wildfires, flooding, and deadly hurricanes like Michael and Florence that have devastated communities in the U.S. and globally.

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The good news is that we have the tools to address this problem. We just need the moral conviction and political will to use those tools.  That includes protecting America’s current clean car standards, which are the best policy we have on the books to fight climate change.

The transportation sector is now the country’s largest source of the carbon pollution that causes climate change. Rolling back these standards will mean dirtier cars that pollute the air and jeopardize the health of millions of Americans, especially the over 26 million Americans — including 6 million children — who suffer from asthma.

Ignoring these impacts and rolling back these clean car standards would also make frontline communities, such as communities of color, even more vulnerable than they already are to air pollution, denying them the promise of clean air and healthy communities.

Pollution is deeply tied to issues of racism and environmental injustice, as low-income communities and communities of color are far more likely to be impacted by their proximity to major transportation hubs such as interstates and highways. The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) own scientists have found that the pollution burden on African American communities is 54 percent higher compared to the overall population.

Despite broad support for current standards from a majority of Americans, the Trump administration is defiantly moving forward with a repeal of these standards that would otherwise keep our communities healthy and safe.

Many who oppose this rollback, myself included, made our voices heard at a recent clean cars hearing in Fresno, California. I wasn’t alone; one person after another testified in support of the current strong standards. This mirrored the hearings held in Dearborn, Michigan and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where individuals representing businesses, environmental organizations, faith communities, local governments, and their own families urged the Trump administration not to roll back these life-saving standards. 

This is a moral obligation. For me, it’s driven by faith. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is asked the question, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He answers, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:36-40)

In this case, we love God and our neighbors by standing up and voicing our opposition to the reckless rollback of safeguards like the clean car standards that protect children from increasing asthma rates and our elders from pollution-related illnesses that shorten their life spans.

I urge the Trump administration and the EPA to live up to its mission to protect the health of families and communities by keeping the current, effective clean car standards in place. Our planet, and our neighbors’ health, depend on it. 

Reverend Susan Hendershot is the president of The Regeneration Project and Interfaith Power & Light. She previously served as the executive director at Iowa Interfaith Power & Light. She is ordained in the Christian Church with an Master of Divinity from Emory University in Georgia.