• Cam Humphrey

Relaxed Regulations Put Alabama’s Black Belt at Risk for COVID-19 Devastation

Updated: Jul 24, 2020

A recent national study from the Harvard School of Public Health has shown that a small increase in prolonged exposure to air pollution can lead to a large increase in the COVID-19 death rate. The magnitude of that increase is 20 times that of air pollution and general all-cause mortality. This study suggests that it is extremely important, now more than ever, to enforce and enhance existing air pollution regulations. With the appearance of COVID-19, it is possible that the existing poor health conditions will be worsened for certain communities and could leave a drastic impact.

For example, The Black Belt, located in southern Alabama, is the poorest region in the state. The Black Belt region is known for its rich soil and is historically recognized for the prevalent black tenant farming community dating back to the Reconstruction era. The importance of black owned land, and the sustainable use of it, has been a heightened priority in the region for well over a century. However, today many of Alabama’s largest landfills and other polluting facilities are clustered within the Black Belt region.

The way forward is quite clear - we should be enforcing air pollution regulations in order to protect human health as best we can during the COVID-19 pandemic, and thereafter. However, the Trump Administration has decided to do the exact opposite. In the midst of the virus, in what experts have dubbed “peak weeks,” the Trump Administration has decided to forward its environmentally deadly agenda. The administration is allowing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to roll back environmental regulations for polluters, inherently allowing facilities reporting to the EPA to pollute even more without consequence.

This will cause even more pain and suffering, as air pollution has been inextricably linked to higher rates of chronic illnesses in the black community that, in turn, put black communities at greater risk for detrimental outcomes if the virus is to appear within the rural South. It is important to realize that our bureaucratic system is fundamentally broken, especially when our government fails to recognize and acknowledge the clear negative impacts it can cause to disadvantaged communities through deregulation.

Recently, Congresswoman Terri Sewell (AL-07) drafted and led the introduction of the Alabama Black Heritage Act, along with other Alabama U.S. Representatives. The proposed legislation will designate the 19 counties in Alabama’s Black Belt as a National Heritage Area. As a defined National Heritage Area, the Black Belt region will be able to leverage funding for long-term projects that will produce major economic and environmental community benefits. Heritage areas are able to receive up to $1 million in federal funding annually to preserve, protect and promote important sites. This legislation is definitely a step in the right direction for the revitalization of the Black Belt, and the preservation of black history and black heritage in the area. Those in power must actively continue to recognize, acknowledge, and properly include African American communities throughout the entire process. Without prioritizing the needs of those over-burdened, we further separate the linkages of unity we so desperately need.

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