Environmental Justice, Hillary Clinton, and the Rising American Electorate

By Ellice Ellis

Hillary in Flint

Hillary Clinton addresses the Flint water crisis during a presidential debate.

The water crisis in Flint, Michigan thrust environmental justice issues into the national spotlight during the 2016 Democratic presidential primary.

The gap between the Democratic primary candidates’ positions on environmental justice and how to address the still unresolved Flint water crisis might not have been very wide, but in the general election, there is a deep gulf between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

Flint remains in the middle of an almost 2-year long public health crisis. Earlier this year, we learned that thousands of children had been exposed to dangerous levels of lead in their drinking water. State and local officials failed Flint’s residents, who are 56.6 percent black, another 8 percent Latino or mixed race, and 41.5 percent living in poverty.

Hillary Clinton was the first presidential candidate to visit Flint, drawing further national attention to its plight. During an interview with Rachel Maddow back in January, she showed her outrage and frustration with the lack of response from the local government and called for widespread improvements to infrastructure. After all, Flint is far from the only example of failures to protect Americans’ drinking water: an NRDC analysis of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency records revealed that at least 18 million Americans could be exposed to lead in their tap water.

Clinton understands that everyone has a right to clean drinking water, regardless of race or income. In an MSNBC op-ed, Clinton pledged to “…make environmental justice a central part of [her] comprehensive commitment to low-income communities of color…”

In sharp contrast to Trump’s dangerous disregard for environmental protections and public health, Clinton’s positions and record on these issues is in line with the concerns of one of America’s most important electorates. Black Americans, Latinos, other peoples of color and millennials — collectively known as the Rising American Electorate (RAE) — have proven not only essential to winning national elections, as seen in 2012, but also fundamentally concerned about environmental issues.

Latinos are deeply culturally connected to the environment, according to Pamela Rivera, Partnership Engagement Advocate at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “For many, the cultivation of the land is how they feed their families and support themselves,” she said, which makes the protecting the earth from climate change an important issue in their minds.

During the 2012 election, the RAE collectively made up 48 percent of the overall electorate.  This ratio helped to elect the nation’s first black president. And the RAE has continued to grow — all races except non-Hispanic whites have had more births than deaths between 2013 and 2014.

The groups that make up this politically essential electorate most acutely feel the impacts of climate change and other environmental issues. This could explain why, of registered voters, 63 percent of the RAE is concerned about climate change (compared to only 50 percent of other Americans).

Despite occurring more than a decade ago, Hurricane Katrina devastated Gulf states serving as a powerful reminder of low-income and minority communities’ vulnerability to weather events exacerbated by climate change. Rising sea levels primarily impact the coastal lands on which more African Americans are likely to live than any other minority group, according to this NAACP fact sheet.

The tragic effects Katrina had on the residents of New Orleans, a coastal city with a black population of 58.5 percent, were followed by the federal government’s slow response to help the victims. There are clear parallels in how the state of Michigan initially ignored warning signs of lead poisoning among Flint residents.

Latinos make up over half the population of urban areas such as East Los Angeles and San Antonio, Texas. They are 30 percent more likely to take trips to the hospital for asthma triggered by inner-city air pollution.

Clinton’s focus on environmental justice will likely hit home with these communities in the RAE. Her focus is in contrast to an avidly climate-denying GOP candidate who says that climate change is a hoax invented by China to cripple the U.S. economy and gain competitive advantage. Trump also says he wants to eliminate the ‘Department of Environment Protection,’ which presumably is what he thinks the EPA is called.

Trump’s plan to abolish the EPA would prevent the enforcement of bedrock environmental protections. This would leave vulnerable communities, especially those in the RAE, unprotected from environmental hazards.

Trump and the multitude of former GOP presidential candidates this election cycle have displayed the profound disconnect between the Republican Party in its current form and the issues the RAE care about.

The polarized political views on climate change across and the spotlight on the Flint water crisis have propelled environmental issues into higher focus ahead of November. The stark contrasts between the candidates on these issues could mean these issues play a more prominent role in encouraging voters to turn out.

In late July, Clinton became the first woman to accept the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. Her record as an environmental champion, underscored by her support from major environmental groups, prove that she’s well-positioned to protect and strengthen President Obama’s legacy on environmental protections and climate action. In a world where the six most influential positions at the global United Nations climate talks are all held by women, Clinton is poised to continue female environmental leadership and use her status to inspire members of America’s quickly growing Rising American Electorate.

This election cycle, climate draws an obvious distinction between Clinton and Trump. The current status of the Democratic Party platform sets Clinton up to run on the strongest climate change agenda ever. On the other hand, Trump’s running mate Mike Pence is a fellow climate-denier who has called global warming a myth. When RAE voters head to the polls in November, they will remember Clinton’s many endorsements from environmental groups, her awareness of environmental justice issues and commitment to tackling them, and her climate action plan.

Despite climate-denying politicians and the gulf in climate science acceptance across party lines, Americans want action on climate change. New polling tells us 7 in 10 voters support a role for the federal government in reducing carbon emissions and combating climate change.

If a Donald Trump presidency becomes our reality in November, very few in the White House will heed the concerns most Americans have for their families’ health and for years of American environmental progress.

Ellice Ellis is an intern at NRDC Action Fund through the Urban Alliance program, which pairs D.C.-area high school students with internships in potential career fields.

NRDC Action Fund’s Weekly News Summary

This is what the NRDC Action Fund has been reading this week:

Hillary Clinton speaks during a campaign rally at the Coliseum on August 8, 2016 in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Hillary Clinton speaks during a campaign rally at the Coliseum on August 8, 2016 in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Republican EPA administrators endorse Clinton- In their endorsement of Clinton, two former EPA administrators cited Donald Trump’s “profound ignorance of science.” (CNN)

How bad is your air-conditioner for the planet?- The greenhouse gases emitted by air-conditioners are far more potent than carbon dioxide. (NY Times)

Social cost of the Flint Water Crisis- The city originally switched its water source to save $5 million. (Time)

The energy efficiency president- Obama has done more to save energy than any other president. (Washington Post)

Underwater homes- Over 900,000 Florida homes could be underwater due to sea level rise. (South Florida Business Journal)


NRDC Action Fund’s Weekly News Summary

Climate Action NowThis is what the NRDC Action Fund has been reading this week:

Symptoms of a sick climate- Record breaking temperatures in 2015 prove the state of the earth’s climate is worsening. (NRDC)

Why we need the Clean Power Plan– On its 1 year anniversary, read why this attorney is on the Clean Power Plan’s side. (Huffington Post)

Startling facts about the state of last year’s climate– 2015 broke many records, but 2016 is even hotter. (Washington Post)

Government agencies must consider the climate–  This week, The White House released new guidance that directs federal agencies to consider climate change. (Grist)

Environmental groups are pouring money into the November elections– High profile races in the country are getting major attention from green groups looking to exert their influence. (The Hill)

How the 2016 RNC and DNC measured up on climate change– When it came to talking about climate at the national conventions, Democrats pushed for action while Republicans were in denial. (ThinkProgress)

GOP senator wrongfully denies global warming – Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin claimed the earth is not warming and compared climate activists to Joseph Stalin and Hugo Chavez. (Talking Points Memo)

NRDC Action Fund’s Weekly News Summary

Here’s what the NRDC Action Fund has been reading this week:We're with them.

Clinton-Kaine are the clear choice– Hillary Clinton’s selection of Tim Kaine gives voters a clear choice in November when it comes to climate action and building a clean energy future. (NRDC Action Fund)

One-sided arguments in the 2016 election?– The GOP convention was largely silent on issues such as climate change and reproductive rights, but those issues are front-and-center at the Democratic gathering in Philadelphia. (Newsweek)

The lone mention of climate change at the RNCTrump’s potential energy secretary, Harold Hamm, admits climate change is a problem but denounces it’s a primary one.  (Grist)

Climate change is intensifying U.S wildfire seasons–  The unnatural changes in scale, timing, frequency and intensity of fires in the US are symptoms of climate change. (The Guardian)

Climate change is making Americans hotter nationwide– Federal forecasters say all 50 US states will see above-average temperatures for the first time during next 3 months. (USA Today)

Filmmaker James Cameron believes we need to act on climate– James Cameron’s film at the DNC shows support for Hillary Clinton and discusses how global warming loads the dice for extreme weather. (Politico)

America’s growing consensus on climate change– Stark divisions in the Republican Party exist on the  issue of climate change but the emerging consensus is that it is an issue. (E&E Publishing)


NRDC Action Fund’s Weekly News Summary

This is what the NRDC Action Fund has been reading this week:

Did the tobacco industry learn its denial from big oil?Green groups find that the tobacco industry’s efforts to deny the dangers of its product all started with denial in big oil. (The Hill)

Cleveland is not the place for climate denial– Environmental justice and climate change has been mocked and teased at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland as the city struggles with pollution and poison. (Think Progress)

Trump and Pence are running on climate denial– Donald Trump’s VP pick, Governor Mike Pence, is also a climate denier, calling global warming a “myth.” (Mother Jones)

Doug Mills/The New York Times

Doug Mills/The New York Times

Labor and climate groups team up to fight Trump– Labor and climate groups launch a $10 million anti-Trump campaign, aimed at electing Hillary Clinton and having one-on-one conversations with voters about environmental justice and citizenship for immigrant families among other topics. (The Hill)

Obama announces expansion of solar programs– The Obama administration launches Clean Energy For All initiative to expand access to and lower the cost of solar for low-income households. (Bloomberg)

The effects of the GOP’s anti-climate platform- The Republican Party platform adopted Monday night would bring a total about-face on U.S. energy and climate policy, committing to withdrawing the US from the Paris climate accord and deregulating carbon dioxide emissions. (Washington Post)

A Trump presidency would threaten our public lands – The GOP’s new platform proposes to get rid of national parks and forests and give them away to the highest bidder. (Think Progress)