Underprotected and Underserved: Environmental Justice and Inadequacy of Federal Air Pollution Policies in Protecting Marginalized Communities

Gretchen Goldman, Ph.D. | Research Director for the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists

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For more than 50 years, the Clean Air Act has served as a vehicle to reduce air pollution nationwide and been remarkably successful, dropping air pollution by 73%, avoiding countless deaths and saving trillions of dollars in avoided health costs. Yet, the benefits of federal air pollution protections have not been shared equally across the population. Despite overall air pollution reductions, many communities have higher burdens of air pollution, namely from nearby industrial facilities and roadways, and these communities are disproportionately Black, Latinx and low-income communities. This disparity in air pollution exposure can be attributed to several factors including structural and institutional racism, private sector behaviors and government policy decisions. Federal air pollution laws are inadequate to address environmental justice concerns. For example, communities facing cumulative impacts from multiple local air pollution sources can experience air pollution levels that exceed recommended levels to protect public health, even while all nearby pollution sources are compliant with federal statutes. This provides communities with little recourse for improving their local air quality. The Clean Air Act is an insufficient vehicle for protecting the communities who need it most.  This talk will explore the disproportionate impacts of air pollution exposure in environmental justice communities, the inadequacy of federal air pollution policies and opportunities for community advocacy to improve air quality at the local scale.

Speaker Bios and Abstracts

About the Speaker

Gretchen Goldman is the research director for the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. Dr. Goldman leads research efforts on the role of science in public policy, focusing on topics ranging from scientific integrity in government decision-making, to political interference in science-based standards on fossil energy production, climate change, and environmental justice. Previously, Dr. Goldman was a postdoctoral research fellow at the Georgia Institute of Technology, where she worked on statistical modeling of urban air pollution for use in epidemiologic studies of acute human health effects. She holds a Ph.D. and M.S. in environmental engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology, and a B.S. in atmospheric science from Cornell University. Dr. Goldman has testified before Congress and her words have appeared in Science, Nature, The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, BBC, National Public Radio, and MarketPlace. She currently serves on the 500 Women Scientists Leadership Board,  the advisory board of InfluenceMap, and the Air and Climate Public Advisory Committee for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.