Marginalized Communities Need Big Environmental Wins

We need to fight for environmental justice until all marginalized communities have access to clean air, clean water, and a healthy environment. It's a matter of life or death.
Climate justice activists participate in the People's Climate March in advance of the United Nations Climate Summit, New York City, September 2014.

For too long, communities of color have borne the brunt of environmental degradation, suffering the consequences of pollution and toxic industries that too often find their place in our neighborhoods. That’s why, when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its decision to limit tailpipe emissions and gas-powered cars, it was important to take a moment to celebrate this win—and to acknowledge how far we still have to go. 

The EPA’s efforts to reduce emissions and transition to cleaner transportation options are a great start for Black and brown communities, but it’s not enough. Our communities continue to be disproportionately impacted by emission pollution, with trucks and heavy industry spewing toxins into the air that surround our homes, our schools, and our kids’ playgrounds, because those vehicles drive on highways and ports that cut through Black and brown communities due to redlining. Estimates show that transitioning to zero-emission trucks could save nearly 67,000 lives and prevent premature deaths and chronic respiratory illnesses, particularly in low-income and redlined communities located near major trucking corridors.  

LISTEN: Black History Is a History of Resistance and Liberation, with Rann Miller

So while we can be excited about this step in the right direction, we know BIPOC communities still see higher rates of asthma, respiratory illnesses, and heat-related deaths. For us at Hip Hop Caucus, environmental justice is not just a slogan—it’s a matter of life and death. As we look to the future, we need leaders across the country to prioritize our lives by pushing the boundaries of environmental and racial justice even further. 

This could include directing transformative investments into Black and brown community financial institutions and funds to bolster local initiatives for climate justice and conservation, such as the $6 billion earmarked for the Clean Communities Investment Accelerator. It might also look like scrapping subsidies and tax loopholes for fossil fuel and petrochemical corporations, which was outlined in the Biden-Harris Administration’s fiscal year 2025 budget request. These measures, which would end thirteen fossil fuel tax preferences and credits, could eliminate nearly $31 billion from the federal deficit over the next decade and would signify a shift toward environmental justice and away from fossil fuel prominence. 

If our leaders started enforcing higher standards for oil and gas power plants that don’t rely on false solutions to accelerate the just transition to clean energy, we could put a stop to sacrifice zones, which uphold the environmental racism BIPOC families across the country have faced for decades. Recognizing the significant contribution of Texas and Louisiana emissions—particularly from oil, gas and petrochemical industries—there is a pressing need to lead in climate finance investments, specifically from the Gulf South to the Global South. Finally, supporting public infrastructure and mass transit improvements that don’t exacerbate gentrification will help us build cleaner cities with opportunities for green employment, proving environmental justice can be a win for our communities and our economy. 

READ: New Pennsylvania Shell Plant Brings Pollution and Plastic. We’re Fighting Back.

In a world where the voices of marginalized communities are too often ignored, we need more voices to make something loud and clear: Small wins are great, but our communities need bigger ones, too. Moving toward action on the above priorities puts us on the right trajectory for those bigger wins our communities need. We refuse to accept a future where our families and neighbors continue to suffer from the impacts of pollution and climate change. Let’s continue to fight for environmental justice until every community has access to clean air, clean water, and a healthy environment. When it comes to protecting our planet and our people, there’s no time to waste.

This column was produced for Progressive Perspectives, a project of The Progressive magazine, and distributed by Tribune News Service.

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Picture of Russell Armstrong

Russell Armstrong

Russell Armstrong is the Senior Director of Campaigns and Advocacy at Hip Hop Caucus. He is a graduate of American University Washington College of Law, Loyola University Chicago and the University of Pennsylvania.

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