Wendi C. Thomas: The dismantling of the EPA should really worry people of color

It matters because so many of us often live near toxic facilities.

Wendi C. Thomas, The Undefeated | 3/16/2017, 10:56 a.m.
It matters because so many of us often live near toxic facilities.
Wendi C. Thomas writes on the perils of dismantling the EPA (Photos: Courtesy of Butler University/TheUndefeated.com. Illustration by Lee Eric Smith)

“Black communities and some other communities have always suffered the brunt of issues like deforestation and unsafe and unclean water,” said J.T. Roane, a postdoctoral fellow at Smith College. He studies the history of African-Americans and environmental issues. Whether it’s the Dakota pipeline near the Standing Rock reservation, or toxic water in Flint, Michigan, or hurricanes in New Orleans, the nation gets chance after chance to confront the impact of environmental changes on vulnerable communities, he said.

“But rather than have a conversation about global warming or climate change or the destruction of marshland that would have served as a greater basis for protection [during Hurricane Katrina], we talked about looters in scare quotes.”

The solution, Patterson said, starts within communities of color. They need to demand a seat at the table wherever environmental justice decisions are made. That’s why the NAACP is developing an equity toolkit to help communities of color understand what kind of policies they need to push for at the state and local level, “so people won’t feel like they’re sitting at the table and don’t know what to say,” she said.

People of color can also start generating solar energy, so they’re not as reliant on the power grid. They can plant gardens to create their own food systems, as a hedge against shifts in agricultural yield. And they can start recycling projects to shift trash away from landfills, which are more likely to be located near black and brown people. “When people aren’t looking out for us,” Patterson said, “we need to look out for ourselves.”