Denying the climate change and health connection got them nowhere; polluters try (and fail) to convince Latinos and African Americans that the Clean Power Plan is bad for their bottom line

Guest Blog | June 18, 2015 | Climate Change, Energy Justice, Energy Policy

This post, written by Juan Declet-Barreto, originally appeared on NRDC’s Switchboard blog on June 11, 2015 and is reposted with permission.

Addressing the disproportionate impacts of carbon pollution on the health of low-income and minority communities is one of the most compelling reasons for combating climate change. Many serious and rigorous scientific studies have shown that minorities bear high exposures to air pollutants and toxics in their neighborhoods. In addition, emergency room visits and hospitalizations during heat waves (which are becoming worse due to climate change) are higher among Latinos and African Americans. And as we at NRDC recently showed, increased ground-level ozone and pollen that worsens asthma and respiratory allergies are linked to climate change and threaten the health of millions in cities the United States. The millions of Hispanics and African Americans living in the “sneeziest and wheeziest” cities in the U.S. indicate these populations are at elevated health risks from climate change.

Knowing that there’s no credibility in denying science’s sound verdict on the connection between climate and health of minorities, the polluter industry is now working hard to convince low-income Latinos and Blacks that what’s good for polluters’ profits is also good for the economic well-being of minorities. It seems they’ve been successful at co-opting the National Black Chamber of Commerce (NBCC) into conducting a “study” showing that the EPA’s soon-to-be-finalized Clean Power Plan will be catastrophic for the bottom line of Latino and African American families. The paper begins with well-known socio-demographic trends over time of, and socio-economic disparities among, Black and Hispanic populations. As we know, the Latino population is the fastest-growing demographic in the U.S., and there are large gaps in health outcomes, health care access, income, and economic security between minorities and Whites. So far so good. Then the paper goes off into Fantasyland by concluding that these disparities will be worsened under the Clean Power Plan because a previous study already debunked as shoddy science (and financed by the polluter industry!) claims that carbon standards will rush over the economy like a tsunami and wash away the income of Latinos and African Americans with it. They dedicate exactly one sentence to explaining their “analysis”:

“We derived these [economic impact] estimates using the proprietary MISI model and well established relationships between energy, the economy, and jobs.” (page 60 of the paper)

So, a discredited study serves as the basis for a tremendously dishonest leap of faith: that income inequalities among minorities will be widened by the Clean Power Plan. As concerned as the paper claims to be about inequalities among these communities, it conveniently omits the disproportionate exposure to air pollutants and toxics from power plants among Latino communities, which are known to contribute to the high burden of respiratory and cardiovascular health outcomes among Latinos and African Americans. Enter real science: a very credible team of climate science and public health researchers found that carbon standards similar to those proposed by the Clean Power Plan can have substantial health benefits for everyone from reductions in dangerous co-pollutants emitted by power plants in the United States.

This is a cynical attempt at co-opting the Latino and African American communities into rejecting the most significant controls to power sector air pollutants and toxics affecting their health and communities. These communities, among many others, are actively taking action and demanding strong carbon pollution standards to safeguard their health. We should not let the polluter industry mislead us through the use of junk science and “mercenaries with PhDs” whose only goal is to prioritize polluter profits over the well-being and health of people.

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