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New Environmental Justice Task Force

Last week, Gov. Roy Cooper ordered the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to coordinate the integration of environmental justice into state policies, programs, and procedures.

As part of that effort, Cooper’s order (PDF) establishes the Andrea Harris Social, Economic, Environmental, and Health Equity Task Force. The task force is charged with identifying best practices for eliminating health disparities, promoting economic stability, and achieving environmental justice for racial minorities. It is named for Andrea Harris, who co-founded the North Carolina Institute of Minority Economic Development and served on the Advisory Council for Historically Underutilized Businesses. Harris recently passed away.

State Department of Administration Secretary Machelle D. Sanders will chair the task force. Sanders noted, “Health inequities are the result of more than individual choice or random occurrence — they are the result of the historic and ongoing interplay of inequitable structures, policies, and norms that shape lives.”  

Those who seek environmental justice strive to end the disparate impacts of pollution and environmental degradation on the health and well-being of people of color, especially when they are also poor. It’s well-documented that polluting facilities and factory farms are most often located in or adjacent to poor minority communities.

“COVID-19 is shining a light on disparities that have long existed in our health care and economic institutions for communities of color,” said Cooper. “Today’s Executive Order will expand our state’s efforts to help North Carolinians recover from the pandemic and improve access to affordable healthcare and quality economic opportunities in our state.”

COVID-19 disproportionately affects communities of color for several reasons, including existing social, environmental, and health inequities. Despite making up 22% of North Carolina’s population, as of June 1, African Americans account for 30% of confirmed COVID-19 cases and 34% of COVID-19 deaths in cases where race is known. Similarly, Hispanics account for 39% of confirmed COVID-19 cases where race or ethnicity is known, despite only representing about 10% of the state’s population, officials said.

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