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Lawmakers Announce Creation of Environmental Justice Caucus

NNPA NEWSWIRE — “The fact that communities of color, low income communities, and indigenous communities across the country disproportionately face environmental hazards and harmful pollutants on a daily basis has been ignored for far too long,” said Senator Cory Booker, the Ranking Member of the Senate Superfund, Waste Management and Regulatory Oversight Subcommittee.

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By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia 

On Earth Day, U.S. Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Tom Carper (D-DE) announced the creation of the Senate’s first-ever Environmental Justice Caucus to call Congress’ attention to the many environmental justice issues affecting our nation.

The caucus will raise awareness of the many environmental and pollution issues that have created public health challenges, which disproportionately impact low income communities and communities of color, according to a news release.

The caucus will help those communities advocate for themselves with the federal government by providing expertise and assistance, generating legislation and organizing hearings and events.

It will also coordinate with the House Environmental Justice Task Force, which consists of members from the Congressional Black Caucus, Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and the Asian Pacific American Caucus.

“Every American has the right to breathe safe air, drink clean water and live on uncontaminated land regardless of their zip code, the size of their wallet and the color of their skin,” Sen. Duckworth said in the release.

However, she said, too often that is not the case, especially for low income communities and people of color.

“That’s why I’m proud to start the Senate’s first Environmental Justice Caucus to raise awareness of the fact that communities of color face public health challenges at alarming rates while too many in power look the other way,” said Duckworth, the Ranking Member of the Senate Fisheries, Water and Wildlife Subcommittee.

“Together, we will be strong advocates for every person’s right to a safe, healthy and livable environment,” she said.

Booker, the Ranking Member of the Senate Superfund, Waste Management and Regulatory Oversight Subcommittee, said economic or social justice cannot be achieved without also addressing environmental justice.

“The fact that communities of color, low income communities, and indigenous communities across the country disproportionately face environmental hazards and harmful pollutants on a daily basis has been ignored for far too long,” Booker said.

Clean air and clean water shouldn’t be luxuries for the privileged, and the Environmental Justice Caucus is an important step toward raising awareness and taking action to address this injustice, he said.

Further, added Sen. Carper, the Constitution guarantees every American the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — but none of those things are possible without clean air to breathe and clean water to drink.

“The sad truth is that the meaningful progress we’ve made over decades to clean our air and water has not been distributed equally,” Carper said.

“A disproportionate number of lower-income, minority and indigenous communities across the country are in the path of pollution that degrades quality of life and puts human health at risk,” he said.

Carper, the Ranking Member of the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee, added that far too often, the concerns of these communities is addressed at a woefully inadequate pace, especially in comparison to more affluent communities with ample resources.

“That should not be the case. I’m excited to co-found this caucus and confront this public health challenge, and I want to thank my EPW colleagues Senators Duckworth and Booker for their dedicated leadership,” he said.

House Environmental Justice Task Force Co-Founder, Rep. A. Donald McEachin, said environmental rights have been inaccessible for too long for rural and low-income communities and communities of color.

“That is why, last Congress, I co-founded the United for Climate and Environmental Justice task force with Congresswomen Jayapal and Barragán to shed greater light on these environmental injustices,” McEachin said.

“I am thrilled that the task force is now a bicameral initiative. Under the leadership of Senators Duckworth, Booker, and Carper, we will pursue climate and environmental justice together, and take action to mitigate the effects of climate change on our most vulnerable,” he said.

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U.S. Business Leaders Step Up to Fight Inequities in the South

Even as the pandemic has laid bare societal inequities that have long eroded the foundation of our democracy, political leaders in Washington and in state capitols are mired in a level of rancor and partisanship not seen since the ideological struggles over the Vietnam War. 

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Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr./ NNPA Newswire

Even as the pandemic has laid bare societal inequities that have long eroded the foundation of our democracy, political leaders in Washington and in state capitols are mired in a level of rancor and partisanship not seen since the ideological struggles over the Vietnam War. 

This toxic atmosphere has left them incapable of addressing pressing, yet ingrained issues like the racial wealth gap, the digital divide, and vast inequalities in everything from health care to home ownership.

With COVID-19 still an omnipresent concern and the country’s recovery still very much in jeopardy, individuals, families, and communities – particularly communities of color throughout the South – are struggling to deal with issues that have only been exacerbated by the pandemic.

From impediments to wealth creation opportunities and a dearth of education and workforce development to a lack of access to reliable broadband, substandard housing, and inadequate political representation, communities of color have suffered an outsized toll during the ongoing public health crisis.

Yet political leaders can’t even agree on basic facts that would allow the nation to implement a coherent national strategy for combatting a pandemic that appears to be entering a new wave amid the rise of the highly contagious Delta variant that is currently ravaging parts of the South.

Against that disillusioning backdrop, there is at least some reason for hope. Moving to fill the vacuum created by the inaction of our political class, a group of business leaders in the technology and investment sectors have embarked on a far-reaching – and perhaps unprecedented – campaign to address the social inequities and systemic racism that has historically plagued our country’s southern communities.

Known as the Southern Communities Initiative (SCI), the campaign was founded by financial technology company PayPal, the investment firm Vista Equity Partners (Vista), and the Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

SCI was formed to work with local elected officials and advocacy groups to tackle the ubiquitous problems of structural racism and inequalities facing communities of color in six communities throughout the South. SCI notes that these areas – Atlanta, Ga., Birmingham, Ala., Charlotte, N.C., Houston, Texas, Memphis, Tenn., and New Orleans, La., – were chosen in part because they are home to around 50% of the country’s Black population and are where some of the greatest disparities exist.

SCI is aiming to drive long-term change, as outlined by PayPal CEO Dan Schulman, Vista CEO Robert F. Smith and BCG CEO Rich Lesser. 

In Atlanta, for example, SCI is working to bridge the wealth gap that exists among the region’s African-American residents. While there is a strong Black business community in the city, and high levels of Black educational achievement thanks to the regional presence of several Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) and the voice of the Black press, there is still an extremely low level of Black entrepreneurship and business ownership with only 6% of employer firms being Black-owned.

To remedy this disparity, SCI is working with the Southern Economic Advancement Project to create entrepreneurship hubs and accelerator programs to increase the number of minority-owned businesses. The corporations behind SCI are also using their networks to help other companies work with minority-owned supply companies.

In Alabama, SCI is seeking to bridge the massive digital divide in an urban area where 450,000 households are without connection to the internet. In order to tackle the crisis, SCI is leveraging relationships with local schools and libraries to distribute laptops and service vouchers. Another tact SCI is taking is to partner with the owners of multi-unit buildings in low-income neighborhoods to install free public Wi-Fi for residents.

The lack of access to capital is another reason Black communities throughout the South have been traditionally underbanked. In Memphis, where 47% of Black households are underbanked, SCI is partnering with Grameen America to cover the $2 million per year per branch start-up cost to build brick-and-mortar banks in minority communities.

This alone will provide 20,000 women access to more than $250 million per year in financing.

Beyond these initiatives, SCI is partnering with groups like the Greater Houston Partnership and the Urban League of Louisiana to provide in-kind support to improve job outcomes for minority college students, expand access to home financing through partnerships with community development financial institutions, and harness the power of technology to expand health care access in underserved urban and rural neighborhoods.

The issues facing these communities throughout the South are not new nor will they be fixed overnight.

Fortunately, SCI is taking a long-term approach that is focused on getting to the root of structural racism in the United States and creating a more just and equitable country for every American.

A once-in-a-century pandemic and a social justice movement not seen since the 1960s were not enough to break the malaise and rancorous partisanship in Washington. Fortunately, corporate leaders are stepping up and partnering with local advocates and non-profit groups to fix the problem of systemic injustice in the U.S.

We, therefore, salute and welcome the transformative commitments of the Southern Communities Initiative (SCI). There is no time to delay, because as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. so accurately said, “The time is always right to do what is right.”

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NNPA – Black Press w/ Hendriks Video Interview

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Black Woman to Lead United States Park Police

 Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

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Pamela A. Smith

Pamela A. Smith, a 23-year veteran of the United States Park Police, will lead the nation’s oldest federal law enforcement agency.

Smith, who became the first African American woman to lead the 230-year-old agency, immediately remarked that she would establish a body-worn camera program for USPP within 90 days.

The program will initially begin in San Francisco and be implemented across the country by the end of the year, Smith said.

“Body-worn cameras are good for the public and good for our officers, which is why I am prioritizing implementing a body-worn camera program within my first 90 days,” Smith offered in a statement.

 “This is one of the many steps we must take to continue to build trust and credibility with the public we have been entrusted to serve.”

Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in Education from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and graduated from the FBI National Academy. She is a member of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

During her law enforcement career, the proud Zeta Phi Beta Sorority sister has served as a patrol officer, field training officer, canine handler, and academy instructor at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

 According to a news release, Smith also served as executive lieutenant to the chief of police, assistant commander of the San Francisco Field Office, commander of the New York Field Office, acting deputy chief of the Homeland Security Division, and deputy chief for the Field Operations Division.

Smith was the first woman to lead the New York Field Office as its Major.

At the USPP, she will lead a 560-member workforce that protects the public, parks, and the nation’s most iconic landmarks in Wash., D.C., New York City, and San Francisco metropolitan areas.

“Chief Smith’s commitment to policing as public service and her willingness to listen and collaborate make her the right person to lead the U.S. Park Police at this pivotal moment in our country,” Shawn Benge, deputy director exercising the delegated authority of the NPS director, noted in a statement.

 “Over the coming months, the leadership of the National Park Service will explore opportunities with Chief Smith designed to strengthen our organization’s commitment to transparency. Her personal and professional experience make her acutely aware of and ready to meet the challenges and responsibilities that face U.S. Park Police and law enforcement agencies across the nation.”

 Jennifer Flynn, the associate director for Visitor Resource Protection at the National Park Service added that she’s looking forward to Smith’s leadership.

“Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

 “As federal law enforcement officers, the U.S. Park Police officers have a new opportunity each day to give their best to the American people. Chief Smith exemplifies that approach as a colleague and mentor, and she will be instrumental in refining and shaping the future of the organization,” Flynn said.

Smith declared that she would lead by example and expects all officers to display integrity.

 “I have dedicated my career to the professionalism of law enforcement, and it is my highest honor and privilege to serve as chief of police,” Chief Smith declared. “Today’s officers face many challenges, and I firmly believe challenges present opportunities. I look forward to leading this exemplary team as we carry out our mission with honesty and integrity.”  

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