Supreme Court to decide pollution standards for African-American communities

Sixty-eight percent of African Americans live within 30 miles of coal-fire power plants that spew tons of pollutants into the air each day.

by Jazelle Hunt NNPA News Service | 4/1/2015, 3:43 p.m.
Sixty-eight percent of African Americans live within 30 miles of coal-fire power plants that spew tons of pollutants into the ...
Jacqui Patterson, director of the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program, speaks to press outside the Supreme Court. (Jazelle Hunt/NNPA News Wire Service)

WASHINGTON – As fossil fuel companies and environmental groups fight over the future of American energy, people of color suffer the casualties.

The latest battle is occurring in the Supreme Court with National Mining Association v. Environmental Protection Agency and its accompanying cases, in which coal mining companies and coal-fired power plants have sued the EPA over new regulations on the air pollution that overwhelmingly settles on communities of color.

The suit focuses on the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) the EPA issued to coal- and oil-fueled power plants in 2011. It’s the first-ever federal rule to limit toxic air pollution from coal- and oil-fired power plants, which would be required to reduce emissions by upgrading their facilities to more public health-friendly systems.

Very few power plants run on oil, but the United States relies on coal for nearly half of its electricity.

Leading coal mining corporations assert that the EPA should not be allowed to issue such regulations without first considering the upgrade and compliance costs they impose. In other words, the plaintiffs want to continue manufacturing without the available community health safeguards, arguing that these regulations present an unfair financial burden and infringe on their ability to make profits.

Coal-powered facilities spew literal tons of pollutants into the air each day. This cocktail of toxins causes cancer, chronic heart conditions, ADD/ADHD, and respiratory diseases ranging from asthma to lung cancer in the surrounding communities. Mercury, in particular, is a neurotoxin—long-term exposure is known to cause fetal birth defects, brain damage or delayed development, emotional disturbances and psychotic reactions, and more.

“Sixty-eight percent of African Americans live within 30 miles of these coal-fire power plants,” said Jacqui Patterson, director of the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program. She said that African American children are two to three times as likely to miss school, be hospitalized, or die from asthma attacks than white children.

She said, “For us, it’s very much a civil rights issue if certain communities are being disproportionately impacted by the pollutants that come from these coal plants.”

The NAACP is one of several groups backing the EPA in the suit. The NAACP’s accompanying report titled, “Coal Blooded: Putting Profits Before People,” grades and ranks nearly 400 coal plants around the nation. It also documents the 75 worst-offending facilities, the worst-offending companies, the toll on local communities, and the national and global implications if the emissions from these plants are not improved.

“A total of four million people live within three miles of these 75 failing plants…out of these four million people, nearly 53 percent are people of color,” the report reads. “Living in such close proximity to coal plants has serious consequences for those communities. Coal plants are single-handedly responsible for a large proportion of toxic emissions that directly poison local communities in the United States.”

According to the report, the top five plants with the worst environmental justice performance were: Crawford Gen. Station and Fisk Gen. Station in Chicago; Hudson Gen. Station in Jersey City, N.J.; Valley Power Plant in Milwaukee, Wis.; and State Line Plant in Hammond, Ind.