Air quality has been a daily concern for all Californians in recent weeks due to the fires ravaging our state, but the truth is pollution has been choking Black and Brown communities for generations. It is time to hold our elected leaders accountable and ensure our voices are heard on important policies affecting our ability to breathe.
The racial and ethnic disparities related to air pollution, especially for the Black community, are well chronicled. Blacks, across all income levels, are exposed to significantly more dangerous pollution particles, known as PM2.5, than the overall population, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. And air pollution accounts for over 100,000 deaths per year. We at the Baptist Ministers Conference of Los Angeles and Southern California find this unacceptable.
Angelenos know all too well our community is the poster child for air pollution. The American Lung Association found that Los Angeles, once again, claimed the smoggiest region in the U.S. for the 20th time in 21 years.
With transportation accounting for a significant source of emissions and air pollution, our region would benefit the most by moving to cleaner transportation, starting with the transition to zero-emission electric vehicles. An electric vehicle transition can prevent deaths, asthma attacks, work loss days and many other health, environmental and economic impacts for Black and Brown communities.
Unfortunately, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is choosing politics over equitable policy by considering a misguided proposal that would exclude some of the most affordable, long-range, American-made electric vehicles from its own fleet. This is wrong on so many levels, especially in light of Gov. Newsom’s recent executive order to phase out new gas-powered vehicles by 2035.
Just as Black and other minority-owned businesses have made historic gains as vendors and suppliers to large U.S. manufacturing companies, the Board is, in this case, excluding American auto manufacturers. We have been pushing uphill for generations to counter exclusionary and racist procurement policies in this and other industries, and now is not the time to let those hard-fought gains slip away.
The Board’s exclusionary policy consideration also endangers good paying union jobs that build and deliver zero-emission vehicles and contribute to cleaner air for our communities. Los Angeles County’s historic jobless rate, which is disproportionately worse in Black neighborhoods, remains among the highest in the nation. It should be obvious that county leaders need to do what they can to protect and grow jobs in the county, not put them at greater risk.
Perhaps most alarming is that climate change threatens Black and Brown communities in far greater numbers than the rest of the population. We are literally choking on air pollution, yet our elected leaders refuse to take action necessary to address it.
Enough. We need an all-hands-on-deck approach to achieve the region’s climate goals, and Black voices must not be silenced at this critical time.
County supervisors need to either reject their misguided vehicle fleet policy outright or amend it to include the best performing vehicles that will have the greatest impact on reducing air pollution and achieving a healthier Los Angeles.
At the Baptist Ministers Conference, we believe in a better future for our congregants, their families and the generations to come that will inherit whatever world we leave behind.
I encourage everyone in our community to make their voice heard and hold our leaders accountable for their decisions – big and small. With Black and Brown lives on the line, I pray the Board of Supervisors won’t get this wrong.
Rev. K.W. Tulloss is president of the Baptist Ministers Conference of Los Angeles and Southern California.