Group targeting environmental racism relaunches amid disparities in coronavirus impact

Group targeting environmental racism relaunches amid disparities in coronavirus impact
© Getty Images

The National Black Environmental Justice Network (NBEJN), which aims to fight environmental inequality and racism, is relaunching amid the disproportionate impact that the coronavirus has had on African Americans. 

The NBEJN will meet with black organizations from across the country in an attempt to come up with an environmental justice agenda for black America, Texas Southern University professor Robert Bullard said during a press call on Monday. 

The agenda will aim to tackle environmental protections, climate, health care, policing and criminal justice, economic development and clean energy, among other areas. 

ADVERTISEMENT

“Multiple crises are causing us to fight wars on multiple fronts,” said Bullard, who has been called the father of environmental justice. “Environmental racism kills. Unchecked air pollution and rollbacks ... make it hard for black people to breathe.”

The environmental justice movement aims to rectify a specific inequality faced by nonwhite and low-income communities, as studies have shown that low-income communities and those of color face greater impacts from pollution. 

Recent studies have also shown that people who have more exposure to pollution are more likely to die from COVID-19, which is also disproportionately impacting black and Latino communities

The relaunch also comes amid nationwide protests against systemic racism and police brutality after a police officer killed George Floyd last month.

However, activists stressed that while this is the first time the NEBJN, which formed in 1999, will be meeting since 2006, its organizers have been working on these issues for decades. 

Bullard said he would encourage any policymaker at the federal or local level — or any presidential candidate — to look at the group’s forthcoming plan. 

ADVERTISEMENT

“When we talk about reaching out to black organizations, black opinion leaders, black thought leaders, on-the-ground grassroots organizations, we’re talking about developing a plan that comes out of communities that we represent,” he said. 

“We are working to ensure that there’s a voice for grassroots organizations and black communities in Washington and we’re certainly working to ensure that our folks and our grassroots leaders can interact effectively with elected officials,” added Peggy Shepard, a member of NBEJN’s executive committee. 

In recent weeks, the Trump administration has pursued additional environmental rollbacks, including waiving environmental requirements for energy and construction projects in the hopes of accelerating them. 

Experts recently warned that this will disproportionately harm communities of color. 

“Those of us who have been working on environment justice for many years see these fast-tracking of permits as a fast-track to the emergency room and the cemetery for black communities,” Bullard said Monday.