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Four centuries after the first enslaved Africans arrived on the shores of America, our country still struggles with systemic racism that pervades our institutions and affects every area of our lives, including public and environmental health. Just this summer, during a pandemic that has disproportionately affected Black and brown Americans, we witnessed Americans take to the streets in every state in the country to protest the murder of Ahmaud Arbery here in Georgia and the videotaped murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. While we must work tirelessly to address these issues, we must also confront the growing threat that environmental injustices pose to Black families in Georgia and across the nation.

For generations, communities of color have had their backyards targeted for risky projects like power plants, toxic waste sites and factories spewing noxious air and unhealthy drinking water. Even as the Trump Administration’s EPA looks to roll back regulations on pollution, they have admitted as recently as last year that communities of color are more likely to live closer to landfills and breathe polluted air. These communities living on the frontlines of our climate crisis suffer the brunt of environmental ills, which result in significant health disparities and exacerbate pre-existing conditions including increased rates of asthma and other respiratory ailments, cancer and even death.

We know why COVID-19 is ravaging our communities disproportionately. Research confirms Black and brown communities are more likely to be exposed to pollution, placing them at higher risk to die from the coronavirus. The question is whether we are finally going to take action to address the underlying issues. This racism may be more subtle than police brutality, but it is every bit as dangerous and pervasive. Our demands for justice for all certainly must mean that our communities, our very homes, must not be health risks.

COVID-19 has given us a unique and urgent mandate to responsibly rebuild both our healthcare system and our federal climate policy to ensure all Americans can thrive. That’s why I have spent the past few months traveling across the state of Georgia to share my vision for clean air and water in every community. After hundreds of conversations, this much is clear –– from families in Juliette drinking water contaminated by toxic coal ash ponds to communities along the coast in my hometown of Savannah grappling with dramatic sea level rise, the disparities in Georgia and across the country underscore a systemic failure of our Senate to address climate change and environmental justice. While some on the ballot refuse to acknowledge that climate change even exists, Georgia families deserve leaders willing to do the work needed to remedy the inequities being experienced in this crisis and transform our climate crisis into a climate opportunity.

Rooted in the idea that all people are entitled to the same degree of protection from environmental hazards and equal access to the decision making process, my emphasis on climate justice is guided by my Christian faith and understanding that, “the Earth is the Lord’s.” We are tied in a single garment of shared destiny, and the choices we make today will affect — and likely constrain — the lives of our children, grandchildren and many generations beyond.

It is past time we take meaningful action toward ameliorating these environmental wrongs and provide communities on the frontlines of our climate crisis a voice and a means to fight back against the pollution that threatens their children and families. If we are going to achieve true justice for Black and brown communities in Georgia and across the country, we must address these historic shortcomings by placing equity and justice at the center of federal climate and environmental policy.

Climate policy must do more than cut carbon pollution. It must tackle our legacy of environmental racism and work to ensure that all Americans — no matter their ZIP code, race or income level — are protected from environmental devastation. We have to demand accountability for the impact of pollution on the health and well-being of our communities and work to center the concerns of communities most affected in any meaningful environmental reform.

Our lawmakers must make clear to the polluters that are poisoning our air and our waterways that enough is enough. With new leadership in Washington, we can ensure that our society becomes healthy and sustainable — not just for the privileged few, but for everyone. We have a long way to go to address systemic racism and environmental injustice in the United States, but I know that together, we can meet this moment, right the wrongs of the past and leave our children the healthy, livable world that they deserve.

In the U.S. Senate, I look forward to being a strong partner in that work.


Reverend Raphael Warnock is running for the U.S. Senate in Georgia’s special election. He has served as the Senior Pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church since 2005, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached.