‘It’s us, African Americans, who get the short end of the stick…’
(Sammy Fretwell and Bristow Marchant, The State – Columbia, S.C.) Democratic presidential candidate Cory Booker promised sweeping changes to the Environmental Protection Agency if elected, including a broader emphasis on punishing industries the government deemed harmful to the environment.
“We can create an EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, that partners with … activists to hold polluters accountable,” Booker told a classroom of students at Allen University in Columbia, SC.
“Right now under this president, the number of actions that are being taken against polluters has gone dramatically down,” he said.
The New Jersey senator was at the historically black university to participate in a town hall meeting on race and environmental issues.
He pledged to put more emphasis on helping forgotten areas suffering from pollution and ensure the federal government puts resources into what he called marginalized communities.
“We can’t afford to lose our children to lead poisoning and illness,” Booker said. “They are our most valuable natural resource. If we are going to compete on the globe, we need all of our players on the field, not … sidelined by illness, disease or injury.”
Booker, among the first presidential candidates to address pollution in South Carolina’s poverty-stricken areas, held the town hall on the same day his campaign unveiled plans to focus on “environmental justice,” or making sure people in poor communities are protected from pollution just like those in wealthy communities.
If elected, Booker said, he would increase staffing in the EPA’s environmental justice office by 10 times, double overall enforcement staffing at the EPA, delegate resources to more Superfund site cleanups, and increase enforcement of laws that protect public drinking water.
During his session with Allen students, Booker said pollution in poor communities impacts people’s health and drives up health care costs. He favors Medicare expansion, among other things.
“We are doing things that allow corporate polluters often to make people sick, then when they are sick, we don’t do anything for them,” he said.
The issue of bad drinking water hit home with Shemar Sutton, a 23-year-old Allen senior who grew up in the Norway–Denmark area of South Carolina.
Sutton told Booker that his mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2011, and he can’t help but wonder if poor drinking water contributed to her health problems.
Growing up, it wasn’t unusual to see gray water pour from the tap, Sutton said. He told Booker he worries about the effects of a chemical Denmark injected into its drinking water for 10 years without the public’s knowledge.
The community also has complained for years about discolored, foul-smelling water that some residents have linked to health problems. Sutton said he wants someone to assess the quality of water in the area.
“Nobody’s mother should have to drink that kind of water,” Booker told Sutton.
Denmark’s problems aren’t unique.
Small water systems serving as many as 800,000 people in South Carolina often have problems complying with safe drinking-water laws, The State reported last month.
Many of those systems are rarely fined heavily and continue to violate safe drinking water laws, imperiling the water residents of small, out-of-the way communities depend on, The State reported.
Sutton and others who spoke Friday are students in Allen’s environmental justice program, which educates students about pollution in poor communities and how they can fight it.
Other students who spoke—some tearfully—said they had firsthand knowledge of contamination and unhealthy living conditions in their neighborhoods.
Delila Nakaidinae has seen water issues on the other side of the country. The Allen freshman grew up on the Navajo Nation in Arizona, where many families depend on well water that has been contaminated by uranium mining.
“That’s led to health issues, diabetes, cancer,” she said.
The struggles she saw among her fellow Navajo led her to take part in the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline at the Standing Rock reservation in South Dakota in 2016.
Booker said his administration would be more respectful of tribal sovereignty than the Trump administration, which is “encroaching on deals made in the past.”
Trump, as one of his first presidential acts, rescinded a massive land grab made by Obama in the twilight of his term that converted millions of acres in private- and state-owned property into federal parkland, impacting cattle ranches, farms and many of the other industries in the region.
Although the Teddy Roosevelt-era Antiquities Act cited by Obama authorized the federal government only to take the bare minimum amount of land appropriate to a national park, Democrat activists have pushed for far more land to be appropriated in order to support their environmental agenda.
Alexia Young said she wasn’t familiar with environmental issues before, but recognized Booker’s linking of environmental neglect with social justice issues. She said her neighborhood in Dallas, regularly has sewage backups that are uncommon in more affluent areas.
“Why is it only in our community, and not in Athens [Texas] or big suburban areas?” Young asked. “It’s the poorer parts where the problems are, and it’s us, African Americans, who get the short end of the stick. It’s lower income people getting the short end of the stick.”
(c)2019 The State (Columbia, S.C.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.