By: Mary Kay Henry, International President, Service Employees International Union
In recent years, too many of America’s working families have experienced the unanticipated costs of the climate crisis first hand. From the catastrophic flooding which wreaked havoc on people’s lives and livelihoods across New York and New Jersey caused by Super Storm Sandy to the debilitating California droughts and wildfires which have impacted food supplies and displaced thousands, to the monstrous unprecedented hurricanes in the Southeast or the record temperatures hitting every corner of our nation, the impact of climate change in our daily lives is real and taking its toll here and now.
By taking measures to reduce the harmful pollution from power plants that causes climate change, the Clean Power Plan takes a very important step forward in addressing the health risks pollution poses to our families and communities and in enacting measures to bring new, good quality jobs to communities overburdened by pollution, which have been left behind for far too long.
Next week, the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit will hear oral arguments on this landmark effort by the Obama Administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Wealthy self-interested corporations seeking to maintain the dangerous status quo and their own financial gain over what is best for America’s families are trying to use the courts to advance their agenda and their bottom line by questioning the EPA’s authority to implement the Clean Power Plan.
The Clean Power Plan is one of the most significant steps our country has taken to address climate change by reducing carbon pollution, 40 percent of which comes from fossil-fuel fired power plants. To America’s working families this step is about so much more than cleaning up our air and water, it is about advancing our fights for justice on all fronts — economic, immigrant and racial.
We know that the impact of pollution from power plants is disproportionately higher in low income and communities of color because a higher percentage of these communities are located near power plants than the national average. By reducing carbon pollution as well as other dangerous pollution from nearby plants, the Clean Power Plan will improve air quality in the surrounding communities.
Working families live and work in some of the most polluted zip codes in America and are part of communities that are most harmed by climate change. Communities of color feel this harm disproportionately, as working moms and dads and their children are forced to breathe dirty air. More than 40 percent of Americans live in areas with unhealthy levels of air pollution. One in six African-American children has asthma, and these children are three times more likely to be admitted to the hospital for an asthma attack and twice as likely to die of asthma. Nearly half of Latinos live in counties where the air is unsafe to breathe.
The Clean Power Plan will fight back against the worst effects of the climate crisis, helping to address the increase in extreme weather events and heat-related illnesses. The EPA also estimates that, by 2030, the Clean Power Plan will help us avoid up to 3,600 premature deaths; 1,700 heart attacks; 90,000 asthma attacks in children; 1,700 heart attacks, and 300,000 missed days of work and school.
These staggering figures mean that states have an incredible opportunity to commit to cleaning up our air for the health of our communities and chart their own clean energy future. The plan paves the way for us to tackle climate change, clean-up our air, and accelerate our transition to a future driven by job-creating clean, renewable energy sources like wind and solar.
The benefits to American families from the Clean Power Plan prove that we don’t have to choose between healthy communities and a healthy economy.
In the upcoming DC Circuit arguments, the health of our communities and local economies are on the line. Working families know first-hand that our fights for economic, racial, immigrant and environmental justice are inextricably linked. For our families the fight for climate justice is a fight for the lives and livelihoods of our families and communities. Tackling the worst effects of climate change is a critical priority for American families. All Americans should have the right to breathe clean air, drink clean water and to support their families with safe sustainable jobs.
The Clean Power Plan is an essential, common-sense effort to protect our families and grow our economy. America’s working families, like SEIU’s two million members, support the Clean Power Plan and will stand with our communities against wealthy corporations and their special interests to fight for the Clean Power Plan which promises our families a better future for generations to come.