Written by Gina Carroll
Harry Alford, President and CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce (NBCC), spoke before the Senate committee on behalf of black-owned businesses in this country. He stated that the NBCC is the largest African American chamber of commerce, which means that his sphere of influence could be significant. This is why I mourn the lost opportunity for Mr. Alford to spread accurate information about the Clean Air Act and the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) to the very community that will be most impacted.
If I could have been a voice in his ear during his testimony, I would have stopped him from contradicting himself, because you cannot justifiably say that you enjoy the California air that has been cleaned up due to the Clean Air Act, and then turn around and state that because there is pollution in other countries, our committed efforts to clean our own air is “all for not.” In 2010 alone, clean air regulations are estimated to have saved over 160,000 lives. In addition, that year more than 100,000 hospital visits were avoided. The Clean Air Act prevented millions of cases of respiratory problems, including bronchitis and asthma. It enhanced productivity by preventing millions of lost workdays and kept kids healthy and in school, avoiding millions of lost school days due to respiratory illness and other diseases caused or exacerbated by air pollution. Over its forty-year span, the benefits of the Clean Air Act – in the form of longer lives, healthier kids, greater workforce productivity and ecosystem protections – outweigh the costs by more than 30 to 1.
Mr. Alford implies that our clean air regulations have made America non-competitive in the global marketplace. Yet, since its enactment in 1970, the Clean Air Act has reduced key air pollutants that cause smog and particulate pollution by more than 60 percent. At the same time, the economy more than tripled. This economic growth has, by Mr. Alford’s own statement, also been enjoyed by black businesses. Mr. Alford says he himself has witnessed black business growth from 300,000 when he founded the NBCC in 1993 to the 2.1 million today. The Clean Air regulations — all for not? Hardly.
Mr. Alford says that the cost of MATS falls disproportionately on African Americans. This is where I think Mr. Alford is dangerously misleading. The truth is — the cost of air pollution has fallen disproportionately on the shoulders of the African American community, especially our children. If I were in Mr. Alford’s ear during his testimony, I would have bolstered his research with the following facts:
Black children have a (from U.S. Dept of Health, Office of Minority Health):
· 260% higher emergency room visit rate
· 250% higher hospitalization rate
· 500% higher death rate from asthma, as compared with white children
Coal-fired power plants plague African-American communities most profoundly:
- Coal-fired power plants produce 386,000 tons of hazardous air pollutants per year, along with 84 different hazardous air pollutants.
- 68 percent of African Americans (compared to 56 percent of the white population) live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant.
- Infants who live in highly polluted cities during the first two months of life have a higher mortality rate. High particulate matter levels markedly increase the risk of SIDS and respiratory mortality. Since African Americans tend to live in polluted urban centers, this impacts our babies significantly.
Mr. Alford’s now popular statement – “Poverty brings far worse health than mercury coming out of a coal plant or utility plant. Violence, crime. These kids that I see are far more likely to get a bullet in the head than asthma. And that’s the reality of it” — is not the reality at all. If I were in Mr. Alford’s ear, I would have informed him that, as Dominique Browning points out here, African-American children are far more likely to develop asthma than to get a bullet in their heads (or anywhere else on their bodies).
Since Mr. Alford feels the EPA is “always wrong,” I wish he’d have listened closely to Dr. Robert Summers, Secretary of the Environment for his own home state, Maryland, who testified about the air quality and job creation benefits of the Maryland industry’s compliance with state laws similar to MATS. These benefits are very real.
I wish Mr. Alford knew Chandra Baldwin-Woods’ story and the many other like her, who have lost African American children to asthma. Perhaps then he could share with his more than 100,000 black business chamber members facts that they could use to assess the real value of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards for themselves.
The African American community needs advocates who know the facts and can urge Congress to move out of the way of our progress toward cleaner air. We’ve waited long enough.
Photo credit: Moms Clean Air Force