Black History Month: a call for community-led solutions

Black History Month is both a time to celebrate and an opportunity to raise our voices for change. From environmental advocacy within the Muslim community to immeasurable contributions in the arts, there are a myriad of ways that Black leaders make our state a better place for us all. And yet, Black communities continue to bear the brunt of our increasingly pressing environmental challenges. 

The time is now to raise our voices for equitable solutions and fight for racial justice in every corner of Oregon.

It’s personal

Dr. Robert Bullard, considered the “father of the environmental justice movement”, started collecting data in the 1970s that definitively showed how much more polluted Black and community of color neighborhoods are in the U.S. His analysis underpinned a lawsuit that showed all five of Houston’s city-owned landfills and six of eight incinerators were located in predominantly black neighborhoods. Black people made up 25% of the population, yet were burdened by 82% of garbage disposal. The data surprised even him. 

Here in Oregon, the lives of people across our state are inextricably tied to the environment. Everything from the quality of the air we breathe and the water we drink to the safety and affordability of transportation options impacts a person’s health, budget, family, community and overall well-being. It’s personal.

All too often, the systems that lead to ecological decline and climate pollution are the same ones that cause unfair and outsized harm to Black communities. A recent report in Multnomah County found that environmental disparities shorten the lives of communities of color. 

We do not accept that this must be the reality for so many people across our state. With climate-caused extreme weather increasing, and toxic chemical risks on the rise, we are taking action now. Black History Month serves as an opportunity to say it loud: Environmental work isn’t done until environmental solutions work for everyone.

Community-led solutions

The Environmental Justice movement in Oregon is diverse and effective. Groups advocate for community-based solutions at local, state, and federal levels. They are helping to reshape who sits at decision-making tables and winning improvements for communities.  

We thank and honor Oregon’s Black environmental leaders, organizers and changemakers 

We are proud to work in partnership with environmental justice groups, Black-led organizations, and Black environmental leaders statewide for solutions – from regional chapters of the NAACP, the Albina Vision Trust and Imagine Black (formerly PAALF) to the Coalition of Communities of Color. The environmental movement simply could not work without your steadfast commitment, inventiveness, spirit and leadership. 

As Dr. Bullard showed the country, data about disparities matter. In 2022, led by environmental justice communities, the Environmental Justice for All bill (HB 4077) passed. The bill elevated the Oregon Environmental Justice Council to sit within the Governor’s office and dedicated resources for a statewide mapping tool to better understand disparities and tailor solutions. 

Oregon Environmental Council will continue to partner and push for community-led policy decisions that deliver near-term economic, health and job creation benefits. 

That’s why we are advocating for the quick reinstatement of the Climate Protection Program, which includes the Community Climate Investment program. As originally designed, this program will invest upwards of $150 million annually in projects like rooftop solar, home energy efficiency retrofits and electric vehicle infrastructure. Distributed through a DEQ-approved 501c3 entity, Seeding Justice, these investments prioritize the people and communities most impacted by the climate crisis including Black, Indigenous and people of color. Reducing environmental harm means lower energy bills, safer homes, cleaner air and healthier lives for generations to come.

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