Clean Air: Is it Worth It?

The Gallaudet University Conference Room filled with the 117 people from different backgrounds, cultures, communities from across the 50 States and Puerto Rico, which made up the Clean Air Ambassadors who all gathered in DC for one cause--clean air. 

Earthjustice, the leading nonprofit environmental law firm in the United States,  in partnership with the NAACP, the American Lung Association, the American Nurses Association, and other organizations, together held the second “50 States United for Healthy Air” event on May 14th and May 15th.

The purpose of the 50 States United for Healthy Air event was to gather ambassadors from each of the 50 states, representing people from all types of communities, congregations and congressional districts, etc. to lobby Congress to bring clean air issues to the forefront of their agenda.

Ted Carrington, an NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Co-Lead from New Jersey shared why the 50 States United for Healthy Air was so important to him:

I’m involved because once I found out that a report done by the Church of Christ some years ago said that the main reasons why communities of color get the most environmental burdens are because of the color of the people that live there.  That was the primary reason and that report was done over 20 years ago.  It infuriated me that they would dump into a community of people that look like me, simply because they look like me and it’s not right.  We have to step up and do something about it and I have been involved every since trying to do something about it.

The diverse group of ambassadors all came to DC because each of them had a compelling story to tell.  They wanted their state representatives to grasp the importance of their support for clean air legislation which affects us all.

During the working sessions, there were two ambassadors that were able to share their stories with the group and how the lack of clean air and the necessary legislation to change their situations have negatively impacted their livelihoods.

Vickie Simmons, part of the Paiute Indian tribe in Moapa, Nevada, expressed how much of an impact the lack of clean air and the dominance of coal plants have played in her life and the lives of her tribe:

My brother died when he was 31. He wanted to show my mother that he had something good going for him by working at the coal plant. None of us knew how much inhaling those toxins were really going to affect him or us.  He was making a good living for himself until he got sick.  He had a massive heart attack at the age of 31, and it was the coal plant that did that to him.

Simmons was sure that the air was not only being polluted from the coal plant that was located next to her tribes land, but also from the big city of Las Vegas, NV, located just 50 miles from the tribal land.  She stated that the Paiute tribe was “land rich and people poor,” and that they would continue to fight for the closing of the coal plant and the restructuring of their land so that they did not have to continue to lose their tribal family to causes related to toxins and pollutants.

Hilton Kelley, President and CEO of Community-In Power and Development, expressed how different things were growing on the opposite side of the railroad tracks, breathing in all of the air delivered directly from the coal plants and oil refinery in Port Arthur, Texas.

After moving from Port Arthur, Kelley began to share his own success story through theatre, but he knew that he had to go back to the other side of the railroad tracks to help his people.  Coal plants and oil refineries were hurting his people, both the health-wise and economically. Kelley knew that it was the time for change:

The willpower to push forward is when you will make the change not just for yourself, but for everyone else around you; it has to come from within.

The NAACP will continue to uplift the cause of clean air for all.   The right to breathe clean air should not be blocked by political wrangling while people are dying in communities across the United States.  We will not rest until everyone’s rights to breathe clean air, drink clean water, and live on uncontaminated land, are upheld.