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Officials Celebrate MLK Day by Pushing for Environmental Change

Local officials claim environmental justice and climate change are the new civil rights issues of our day. (Public Domain Pictures)
Local officials claim environmental justice and climate change are the new civil rights issues of our day. (Public Domain Pictures)
January 18, 2019

RICHMOND, Va. – On Tuesday next week, civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr. will be honored on his 90th birthday. In Virginia, local figures are planning to honor King by pushing for green policy on climate change, which they say has brought health struggles to many poor and predominantly black communities.

Democratic Congressman Donald McEachin of Virginia's 4th congressional district, says communities may need to be convinced that they can and should work to clean up the environment.

"Explain to people why this is necessary here and now,” says McEachin. “The sense of urgency for now, about how it affects their lives now."

McEachin has partnered with the Justice First Campaign, and held a news conference and policy briefing this week to outline his ideas about the need for environmental changes. According to McEachin, 78 percent of black people live within 30 miles of coal plants that spew harmful fumes.

Reverend Leo Woodberry, a pastor and executive director of the New Alpha Community Development Corporation, says the environmental impacts on black communities have often been overlooked when polluting industries pick their locations.

"We did not pay attention to what I call 'the least among us,' in some people's perspective, when it came to pollution and siting."

He also points to the impacts seen in nearby states, such as extensive flooding in the Carolinas that's happening more regularly.

Congressman McEachin adds that lower-income communities have economic as well as environmental benefits to look forward to in what's being called the "Green New Deal," updating the nation's infrastructure with cleaner and more energy-efficient technology.

"Climate change is real, it's affecting them, it's affecting their pocketbooks. And what we're proposing in terms of a 'green collar' economy is good-paying jobs, jobs coming into their neighborhood, and lifting up their standard of living."

He says no House Republicans have voiced support for the Green New Deal concept so far.

Trimmel Gomes, Public News Service - VA