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Clean Power Plan Affects Black Quality of Life

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(Courtesy of NNPA)

(Courtesy of NNPA)

By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Columnist

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – When Cheeraz Gormon received an invitation to lobby in Washington on behalf of President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan with environmental legal advocacy nonprofit, Earthjustice, she was bewildered.

“You couldn’t have told me even last month that I would be on Capitol Hill actually talking about the Clean Power Plan. I was like, ‘Wait, I don’t deal with climate change or any of that,’ I don’t have any expertise in it,” said Gormon, an international spoken-word artist, activist, documentarian, and award-winning advertising copywriter.

She felt if anyone could use an advertising makeover, it was environmentalists. Gormon always thought of them as people who chained themselves to redwood trees.

“But it was always an in-family conversation. Why there’s no trees in our neighborhood, why we have to live near all these factories that [are closed], the different smells, what they’re spraying in the air, saying they’re spraying for mosquitoes. After I accepted the invitation, I went back and connected the dots,” Gormon said.

In her hometown of St. Louis, where half the population is Black, the Meramec coal-powered electricity plant that sits on the Mississippi River pumped an average of 20,000 tons of sulfur dioxide into the air per year between 2007 and 2010, according to an NAACP report. This byproduct contributes to acid rain, as well as chronic heart and respiratory diseases such as COPD, asthma, and emphysema.

The power company has not installed a sulfur dioxide monitor at this plant, but has spent $600 million on purifying “scrubbers” at its St. Charles County facility, west of St. Louis near the airport, where the population is 88 percent White.

In Missouri, 83 percent of the electricity comes from burning coal, which higher than the national figure of 50 percent. These coal power plants are the nation’s and the world’s chief source of air pollution. The Clean Power Plan – a component of the latest update to the Clean Air Act, which began in the 1950s – requires states to reduce their coal power plants’ emissions by 30 percent of 2005 levels, over the next five years.

Neighborhoods that border power plants and refineries are known as “fenceline communities,” and are almost always low-income, of color, or both.

The NAACP report grades and ranks the nation’s coal-fired power plants based on how harmful they are to communities of color. Among the top 12 most hazardous plants, Black people accounted for 76 percent of the surrounding populations. Another study by the University of Minnesota found that people of color are exposed to 38 percent higher levels of nitrogen dioxide – a gas that irritates and weakens airways and aggravates existing heart and respiratory issues – than Whites. For families living in fenceline communities, such as Port Arthur, Texas, Dearborn, Mich., and Pittsburgh, Pa., cancers, heart, and lung conditions strike across generations.

Satoria Briggs, activist and member of the Hip Hop Caucus, knows that from first-hand experience.

“Moving into the Southeast side of Chicago…there’s things I can’t do because of my activity-induced asthma. But it’s activity-induced – it shouldn’t just be there. When there’s piles of petcoke sitting around my neighborhood, that’s directly affecting me,” Briggs explained. “BP has a huge refinery where they have petcoke piles. The cancer rate is higher in this area. You’re being affected. And because you’re not going to say anything much, they’ll throw you this and that.”

Petcoke is a powdery black byproduct of the oil refining process that can be reused as a fuel in some cases. Some oil companies keep it outside in neat exposed mounds, where the dust is easily whisked into the wind and air each day. Briggs recalls seeing schoolchildren arrive to school lightly dusted in it.

Last year, the Hip Hop Caucus launched the People’s Climate Music project and the Home album, featuring tracks about climate change from artists such as Common, Raheem DeVaughn, Ne-Yo and many more. Earthjustice invited Briggs to lobby as a representative of the Caucus.

The finishing touches on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan are expected next month, but the plan has drawn fierce objections from the beginning. Concerns center on energy companies’ profits and the financial burden of meeting tighter standards; states rights and the EPA’s limited power in creating or enforcing rules covering the energy business; and the political struggle between state legislators and local economies lubricated with coal and oil money.

The plan mandates that coal-fire power plants must choose from four methods to reduce their carbon emissions. They can upgrade their facilities and/or practices with state-of-the-art public health-friendly equipment; convert to natural gas, nuclear, or renewable energy; or switch customers to energy efficiency programs and practices.

States will be required to provide the federal government with a proposal on how they will use these methods to comply with the Clean Power Plan. States that refuse or submit inadequate plans will have to comply with a cookie-cutter plan from the federal government.

Critics assert that the plan violates the Constitution by giving a federal agency power over a state function. They also argue that it hinders private profits without providing “due compensation.”

Some feel the plan is unnecessary.

Over the past several years, some companies have been voluntarily reducing their impact on the air and surrounding neighborhoods. Some critics say that these efforts would have reached the Clean Power Plan’s goal in time, without federal intervention. Further, even if the plan is successful, it will do little to impact climate change. The EPA concedes that the proposed reduction pales in comparison to the level of greenhouse gases produced across Asia.

But as state legislators, energy companies, pundits, and the White House squabble, Blacks, Latinos, and Native Americans disproportionately suffer the effects.

“We can’t keep thinking that this environment stuff is separate from your asthma, or your ADD, or your COPD. All this stuff comes from the environment,” Briggs says.

“When I was first asked to do this, I was not super knowledgeable on everything. But I have 126 first cousins on my mom’s side. I can say 60 percent of them have asthma. You don’t have to actually know all the logistics. You should just know that if you can’t breathe, that’s an issue.”

African American News & Issues

Reparations: How ‘Intentional’ Government Policy Denied Blacks Access to Wealth

Fifty years after the federal Fair Housing Act eliminated racial discrimination in lending, the Black community continues to be denied mortgage loans at rates much higher than their white counterparts.

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Stock photo of a vault with access denied written across it

When the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1863, the Black community owned less than 1% of the United States’ total wealth, the Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans was told during its fourth meeting.

Mehrsa Baradaran, a professor at the University of California Irvine, School of Law, shared the statistics during the “Racism in Banking, Tax, and Labor” portion of the two-day meeting on October 13.

From her perspective, the power of wealth and personal income is still unequally distributed. And that inequality, in her view, has always been allowed, preserved and compounded by laws and government policy.

“More than 150 years later, that number has barely budged,” Baradaran told the Task Force, tracing the wealth gap from the period after the Civil War when President Lincoln granted formerly enslaved Blacks their freedom to the present day.

“The gap between average white wealth and Black wealth has actually increased over the last decades. Today, across every social-economic level, Black families have a fraction of the wealth that white families have,” she said.

Baradaran has written a range of entries and books about banking law, financial inclusion, inequality, and the racial wealth gap. Her scholarship includes the books “How the Other Half Banks” and “The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap,” both published by the Harvard University Press.

Baradaran has also published several articles on race and economics, including “Jim Crow Credit” in the Irvine Law Review, “Regulation by Hypothetical” in the Vanderbilt Law Review, and “How the Poor Got Cut Out of Banking” in the Emory Law Journal.

Baradaran, a 43-year-old immigrant born in Iran, testified that her work on the wealth gap in America was conducted from a “research angle” and she respectfully “submitted” her testimony “in that light,” she said.

In her research, Baradaran explained that she discovered an intentional system of financial oppression.

“This wealth chasm doesn’t abate with income or with education. In other words, this is a wealth gap that is pretty much tied to a history of exclusion and exploitation and not to be remedied by higher education and higher income,” Baradaran said.

According to a January 2020 report, the Public Policy Institute of California said African American and Latino families make up 12% of those with incomes above the 90th percentile in the state, despite comprising 43% of all families in California.

In addition, PPIC reported that such disparities mirror the fact that African American and Latino adults are overrepresented in low-wage jobs and have higher unemployment rates, and African American adults are less likely to be in the labor force.

Many issues support these activities that range from disparities around education, local job opportunities, and incarceration to discrimination in the labor market, according to PPIC.

“While California’s economy outperforms the nation’s, its level of income inequality exceeds that of all but five states,” the report stated.

“Without target policies, it will continue to grow,” Baradaran said of the wealth gap. “And I want to be clear of how this wealth gap will continue to grow. It was created, maintained, and perpetuated through public policy at the federal, state, and local levels.

“Black men and women have been shut out of most avenues of middle-class creations. Black homes, farms, and savings were not given the full protection of the law. Especially as these properties were subjected to racial terrorism. The American middle-class was not created that way (to support Black communities),” Baradaran said.

A June 2018 working paper from the Opportunity and Inclusive Growth Institute written by economists familiar with moderate-to-weak Black wealth backs up Baradaran’s assessment.

Published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, the authors of the report wrote that strategies to deny Blacks access to wealth started at the beginning of the Reconstruction era, picked up around the civil rights movement, and resurfaced around the financial crisis of the late 2000s.

Authored by Moritz Kuhn, Moritz Schularick, and Ulrike I. Steins, the “Income and Wealth Inequality in America, 1949-2016” explains a close analysis of racial inequality, pre-and post-civil rights eras.

The economists wrote that the median Black household has less than 11% of the wealth of the median white household, which is about $15,000 versus $140,000 in 2016 prices.

“The overall summary is bleak,” the report states. “The historical data also reveal that no progress has been made in reducing income and wealth inequalities between black and white households over the past 70 years.”

Baradaran recently participated in the virtual symposium, “Racism and the Economy: Focus on the Wealth Divide” hosted by 12 District Banks of the Federal Reserve System, which includes the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

There are some positives that are not typically included in discussions about the challenges Blacks have experienced historically in efforts to obtain wealth, Baradaran said. Many African Americans, specifically in California, were able to subvert the systems that discriminated against them.

“Black institutions have been creative and innovative serving their communities in a hostile climate,” Baradaran said. “I’ve written a book about the long history of entrepreneurship, self-help, and mutual uplift. Historically Black Colleges and Universities have provided stellar education and Black banks have supported Black businesses, churches, and families.”

California’s Assembly Bill (AB) 3121, titled “The Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans,” created a nine-member commission to investigate inequity in education, labor, wealth, housing, tax, and environmental justice.

All of these areas were covered with expert testimony during the two-day meeting held on October 12 and October 13. The task force is charged with exploring California’s involvement in slavery, segregation, and the historic denial of Black citizens’ constitutional rights.

Fifty years after the federal Fair Housing Act eliminated racial discrimination in lending, the Black community continues to be denied mortgage loans at rates much higher than their white counterparts.

“Banks and corporations have engaged in lending and hiring practices that helped to solidify patterns of racial inequality,” Jacqueline Jones, a history professor from the University of Texas told the Task Force.

The Racism in Banking, Tax and Labor segment also featured testimonies by Williams Spriggs (former chair of the Department of Economics at Howard University. Spriggs now serves as chief economist to the AFL-CIO), Thomas Craemer (public policy professor at the University of Connecticut), and Lawrence Lucas (U.S. Department of Agriculture Coalition of Minority Employees).

The Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans will conduct its fifth and final meeting of 2021 on December 6 and December 7.

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Scholarships For San Francisco Youth Who Get COVID-19 Vaccine

City residents ages 12 to 17 are eligible to have their tuition covered at San Francisco State if they have been vaccinated against COVID-19

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San Francisco State University (SF State), the San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH) and the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) announced on Monday a new scholarship program for San Francisco residents ages 12 to 17 who received the COVID-19 vaccine.

Through a drawing, SF State is offering 10 scholarships to fully fund four years of undergraduate tuition to the university for eligible youth who register at participating vaccination locations in the City, which include:

  • Monday, October 25, 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. — Visitation Valley Neighborhood Vaccination Site, 1099 Sunnydale Ave., San Francisco, CA 94134
  • Tuesday, October 26, 3:30 to 6:00 p.m. — Malcolm X Academy School, 350 Harbor Rd., San Francisco, CA 94124
  • Wednesday, October 27, 2:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. — Balboa High School, 1000 Cayuga Ave., San Francisco, CA 94112
  • Friday, October 29, 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. — Ella Hill Hutch Community Center, 1050 McAllister St., San Francisco, CA 94115
  • Tuesday, November 2, noon to 4:00 p.m. — Mission District Neighborhood Vaccination Site, 24th and Capp St., San Francisco, CA 94110
  • Saturday, November 13, 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. — McCoppin Elementary School, 651 6th Ave., San Francisco, CA 94118

“These college scholarships are an incredible reward for San Francisco teens doing the right thing for themselves and their community – and that is being a part of ending this pandemic by getting the COVID-19 vaccination,” said Mayor London N. Breed. “Our teens have endured over a year of distance learning and missed interactions with their friends. These scholarships will carry their education forward and help shape their future in innumerable ways.”

“SF State is committed to supporting college attendance among young people in San Francisco and helping to promote the City’s vaccination goals,” SF State President Lynn Mahoney said. “These scholarships can further public health objectives while lifting up a new generation of leaders for our workforce.”

“We encourage all eligible SFUSD students to get vaccinated and to gain the skills necessary to attend college if they so choose,” SFUSD Superintendent Dr. Vincent Matthews said. “As an SF State alumnus and Gator myself, I truly appreciate the University’s efforts to support health and college access among our City’s youth.”

Since becoming eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine in May, more than 90% of San Francisco’s youth ages 12 to 17 have been fully vaccinated, making this one of the highest vaccination rates among age groups in the City.

“The SF State scholarship program complements our City’s strategy to provide low-barrier access to COVID-19 vaccinations in San Francisco communities, which has resulted in one of the highest vaccination rates in the world,” said Deputy Director of Health Dr. Naveena Bobba. “We’re proud that our 12- to 17-year-old youth have reached such high vaccination rates, and incentive programs like these can help give an extra push to unvaccinated individuals to take immediate action to get vaccinated, protecting themselves, their loved ones and our community.”

Scholarships will be awarded in the amount of the difference between qualifying expenses for in-state tuition and fees and other federal and/or state financial aid awarded to the winner. In the event a winner’s federal and/or state financial aid awards fully cover the cost of in-state tuition and fees, the student will be awarded $2,000 per academic year. All scholarships will be credited to the individual’s student account for each semester of enrollment.

Residents are eligible to enter the drawing if they meet all the following requirements:

  • Permanently resides in San Francisco (including people living in San Francisco who meet AB 540 eligibility)
  • Received at least the first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine two-shot series prior to entry. Must be age 12 to 17 when this occurs
  • Currently not enrolled at a college or university nor have been previously been enrolled in college or university
  • Not an employee or immediate family of an employee of SF State living as a member of the employee’s household. Consistent with California Government Code section 82029, “immediate family” means spouse and dependent children

Residents can receive the vaccine from the participating sites to become eligible, but it is not required. Residents who receive the vaccine elsewhere or are already vaccinated are eligible to register for the drawing.

How to enter

Eligible residents will have the opportunity at the participating sites to complete a form that enters them in the drawing. SF State staff will be there to verify that registrants qualify and to help residents enter the drawing. The last day to enter the drawing is November 13.

Selecting the winners

The winners will be randomly selected from among all eligible entries received. A minimum of one and a maximum of two winners will be selected from each participating vaccination locations.

The official announcement of the winners will publish the week of November 22. Winners will be notified prior to announcement.

For more information regarding the official rules, FAQs and health privacy, visit together.sfsu.edu/vaccinescholarship or email enrollment@sfsu.edu.

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Gov. Newsom Stands Firm on Mandates as State Reaches COVID-19 Milestone

California’s COVID-19 vaccination rate is currently 16th in the country with 71.8% of the population fully vaccinated.

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Moscow - Sep 12, 2021: Vaccinated young woman showing COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card, healthy person in mask after getting corona virus vaccine. Coronavirus vaccine shot and immunization mandate.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom took to Twitter earlier this month to praise Californians for getting vaccinated when the state’s COVID-19 rate dropped to 57.3 cases per 100,000 people, the lowest in the U.S.

“Eighty-five percent of eligible Californians have received at least one COVID vaccine shot. The result? California continues to have the lowest case rate in the nation,” he said.

California’s COVID-19 vaccination rate is currently 16th in the country with 71.8% of the population fully vaccinated.

For now, students will be required to be vaccinated for in-person learning starting the term following FDA full approval of the vaccine for their grade span (7-12 and K-6).

The coronavirus vaccines will be added to other vaccines like ones for measles, mumps rubella, tetanus, and whooping cough, for example, that are required without exception for all students in the state. For those and other shots explicitly stated in California law, no waivers are allowed for any reason, even religious or philosophical ones.

But even though the state’s COVID-19 rates have flattened and the numbers of hospitalizations and deaths have significantly dropped, the governor is facing mounting protests from people opposed to government-imposed vaccine mandates, including parents who do not want their children to take the shot.

Responding to those critics, Newsom’s campaign sent out a letter that included a survey asking recipients for feedback on his vaccine mandate for schoolchildren.

“As you have probably heard, California is the first state in the nation to require our students to be vaccinated against COVID-19. This will go into effect following full FDA approval,” Newsom said in the letter.  “Why did I make this decision? Because it’s the right thing to do, and it will keep our kids safe. This decision may not be popular with some of the people who protest vaccination sites and are opposed to mask-wearing in almost any circumstance, but it will save lives.”

On October 8, Newsom also signed several bills that give dentists, podiatrists and optometrists the authority to administer COVID-19 vaccines.

Those bills are Assembly Bills (AB) 526, 691 and 1064.

The governor also tweeted his advice on vaccine booster shots.

“Protect yourself. Protect your loved ones. Get your booster when it’s your turn,” tweeted Newsom.

As it currently stands, booster shots are not required but are authorized for “individuals 65 years of age and older, individuals 18 through 64 years of age at high risk of severe COVID-19, and individuals 18 through 64 years of age whose frequent institutional or occupational exposure to SARS-CoV-2 puts them at high risk of serious complications of COVID-19 including severe COVID-19,” according to the FDA.

Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock highlighted the fluid nature of the nation’s pandemic response.

“This pandemic is dynamic and evolving, with new data about vaccine safety and effectiveness becoming available every day,” Woodcock stated in a press release.

“As we learn more about the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines, including the use of a booster dose, we will continue to evaluate the rapidly changing science and keep the public informed,” Woodcock continued.

California Black Media’s coverage of COVID-19 is supported by the California Health Care Foundation.

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