People of color communities have long suffered from a legacy of pollution, poverty and a lack of equity. This has and continues to happen because most polluting facilities are sited disproportionately in black and other people of color communities.
During the 2020 presidential campaign, President Joe Biden continuously promised to address the issues of environmental justice, climate change and our crumbling infrastructure. African Americans and others are accustomed to hearing political promises over and over again only to have those promises broken as soon as elected officials take the oath and remove their hands from the Bible. President Joe Biden has proved to be an exception to the rule.
While we are celebrating Black History Month, we must not forget the more than 40-year history of many people from grassroot communities to the halls of federal entities who have struggled to make the issue of environmental justice a national priority, where environmental justice has been called for, prayed for and pleaded for.
President Biden’s executive order directing every federal agency to move 40% of their sustainability investments through environmental justice communities is a huge step toward balancing the scales of racial injustice. It is also a broad pathway that can ensure that a just transition from a fossil fuel-based economy to a clean renewable energy economy includes some of the poorest and mistreated among us. In the South, where there are more polluting facilities sited than any other region in the country, this is a much-needed remedy for poorest region in the country that is experiencing the greatest number of climate change impacts. This is literally a matter of life or death.
From the horrors of cancer alley to the coal ash ponds of the Carolinas, to the Cheraw SC Super- fund site has been spread exponentially after hurricane Florence and the 300 homes in Marion County that must be elevated, President Biden’s executive order may just provide a just relief.
One thing we have learned from the past four years is that executive orders can be reversed and rescinded by the stroke of the next president. So, while President Biden’s executive order is a battle well won, until legislation is passed, it is not the victory that both people and the planet need.
However, there is one thing that can be said: “After four years of lies, the truth has been heard,” and after seeing so many of the promises of democracy broken, here is at least one series of promises that have been kept.
REV. LEO WOODBERRY
Executive director, New Alpha Community Development Corporation