If I Could Have Been A Voice In Harry’s Alford’s Ear, I Would Have Told Him…


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


Grace Adams
Grace Adams5 years ago

If whatever savings are reaped from savings on health care and disability by cutting down on toxic pollution could be snagged and reinvested in further efforts at both cleaning up pollution and paying for health care for the poor, we might come out ahead. If the savings get spent on tax breaks for the super-rich--it is likely to be game over for humans from global warming in about fifty years if something else does not get us first. It should not take more than fifty years of business as usual to destroy agriculture--taking civilization with it.

David H.
David H.5 years ago

In the UK, although there were one or two ineffective laws passed to try and deal with the quality of air in cities in the nineteenth century, it took until 1953; following the deaths of 20,000 people in London during the "Great Smog"; to get a Clean Air Act that worked. Since that time the Clean Air Act (1953) was superceded by an act of 1968 (which introduced further limits and restrictions) and updated in 1993.

In many areas the US lags behind other western countries in the areas of public health and environmental protection, and, although European countries may well have considerably higher standards, much of the rest of the world will and do argue that since the US won't do anything they do not need to either.

And, Gina Carroll is quite right. The benefits of national legislation in these areas mean that everybody is healthier, there are incalculably fewer people with respiratory problems, illnesses, and suffering premature deaths.

What Mr Harry Alford says will (rightly or wrongly) be considered as "consultation" with the black 'community'. It is unhelpful in the extreme for this respected black businessman to come out with rehashed nonsense, treated as factual, which is exactly the same rehashed nonsense of his white counterparts.

Past Member
Past Member 5 years ago

Look in a place like Detroit, at how many of the black kids there suffer from asthma. It's not like violence isn't an issue, but you can't just ignore basic health.

Sandi C.
Sandi C5 years ago


Ira L.
Ellie L5 years ago

con't. ...and changed to NOW benefit the 99% of us.

Ira L.
Ellie L5 years ago

Kudos to you, Deborah, Robert, David and Karen! Until the wealthy are "physically impacted" and business no longer "has the right to use your body as a garbage dump," and they themselves are "polluted to death," they will do nothing but reap the profits of our slow but sure demise. This is nothing less than psychotic greed. The teapartyrepublicanCONservatives are playing with fire, and I, for one, will stand by and enjoy watching them burn. They are hell-bent on destroying our Democracy, and its democratic way of life - with liberty and justice for all. We are now living in an extremist dictatorial form of fascism in America, where everything we fought hard for, over the many years, is now being taken away and put in a shredder. I guess life in America is solely about abortion. Now how sick is THAT? Always coming up with new ways to strip women of their Rights -- distracting from the REAL problems Bush created for this country. They hate our "black" president and schemed from DAY ONE to destroy him. Through everything he has had to face that no other president had to endure, he endured it with grace, humility, brilliance, courage, determination, charisma, compassion, morality, loyalty, and yes, compromise - reaching out to come up with helpful solutions. If we want to preserve what is good and decent in America, Vote for Obama in 2012, with a filibuster-proof Democrat majority in the House and Senate, and watch these awful laws and lies and greed be overturned and changed

Aimee A.
Aimee A5 years ago

Thanks for posting!

Winn Adams
Winn A5 years ago


Deborah Vitek
Deborah Vitek5 years ago

Until the wealthy leaders are themselves physically impacted from the rape of the environment, nothing will be done. It astounds me that the so-called "leaders" are not addressing anything of importance. Apparently they have absolutely no ability to think past the current fiscal year.

Nadine Hudak
Nadine H5 years ago