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EV Charging Investments Could Also Impact Racial Disparities

Studies show that communities of color inhale disproportionate amounts of vehicle pollution compared to white communities. Equitable development of electric vehicle charging stations could change that.

(TNS) — Racial disparities exist in every facet of our lives. When we look at healthcare, we see gaps in quality, coverage and institutional trust. In housing, you find disparities in ownership, loans, and property values. Institutional racism is as subtle as it is pervasive, infiltrating our quality of life, safety — even the air we breathe.

Studies show that communities of color disproportionately inhale air tainted by vehicular pollution. That’s one reason why equity must be central to the plan to build a massive national network of electric vehicle charging stations. It must begin and end with equity.

A 2019 Union of Concerned Scientists study found that, on average, Black residents are exposed to 61 percent more minute air pollutant particles (PM 2.5) than their white counterparts. Asian and Latino residents similarly inhale 73 percent and 75 percent more PM 2.5 than white residents.

This dissonance has a tangible impact on their quality of life. Exposure to PM 2.5 is linked to heart disease, asthma and early deaths. It leads to more frequent hospital visits and missed days of work, creating an acute economic impact among Black and Brown populations.

The study codifies a truth that our neighborhoods have faced for decades. Communities of color, by almost every metric, disproportionately suffer the consequences of pollution.

Just skimming an American history textbook reveals that. Whether it’s a water crisis in Flint, Mich. or surging tides in New Orleans, Black and Brown families have always been on the front lines of environmental degradation. Their disparate exposure to air pollution is another in a long line of injustices that demands our attention.

For the most part, transportation is to blame for air pollution and greenhouse emissions. This includes cars, buses and trucks, all of which spew noxious fumes into their environment. And thanks to a conflation of historical factors, that environment is often filled with families of color.

In the 1930s, our banks redlined majority-minority areas, effectively creating ethnic enclaves borne of financial desperation. In the 1950s, freeway construction slashed through these neighborhoods, replacing homes and parks with vehicular exhaust.

Throughout it all, elected officials refused to truly invest in these communities and left them denuded of green spaces, community centers, and infrastructure to combat our current climate crisis. Meanwhile, the private sector created entire industries reliant on mostly private vehicular transportation.

This neglect is not a matter of happenstance nor coincidence. In “The Color of Law,” Richard Rothstein called it “segregation by law and public policy.” Such deliberate, sustained discrimination demands an effort in the opposite direction, the end goal of which is a network of electric vehicle infrastructure.

Last year, Congress passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, allocating $7.5 billion toward building a national network of 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations. It’s the first such investment in our history.

People of color must not be left out of that work; it must be done equitably. That’s why the group I represent, Neighborhood FORWARD, took part in the recent National EV Charging Initiative Summit presented by the EV Charging Initiative. We look forward to further bridging the gap between willing private investment and public support for cleaner, more equitable air quality.

Joining these stakeholders is the only way to create change on a level that counts — a level that will save Black and Brown lives.

As our leaders piece together a map for electric vehicle chargers, they should start with those areas they can help the most — the magnitude of this moment demands as much. Not prioritizing equity in the creation of reparative infrastructure would be a massive failure. It’s only by addressing the injustices of years past that we can ensure our years ahead are prosperous, healthy and reimagined.

©2022 The Charlotte Observer. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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