Overcoming environmental racism in MN

Steve Floyd/MSR News The Rondo Memorial Plaza is located at the corner of Concordia Avenue and Fisk Street in St. Paul, overlooking I-94.

As Black History Month continues, the effects of environmental injustice are being woven into conversations about the ways Black communities are left behind, including in Minnesota.

Even prior to the current racial reckoning, Minnesota drew attention for stark disparities in education and wages.

Minister JaNae Bates, communications director for the group, ISAIAH, said climate issues are no different, noting Minnesota has abundant resources to make sure everyone can live in a safe and healthy community, but policy and planning decisions over time have left out some Black populations.

“We deserve to have, you know, clean air, clean water, healthy land,” Bates outlined. “What we’ve found is that is often not the case.”

She pointed to St. Paul’s Rondo neighborhood and North Minneapolis as areas suffering as a result of interstate construction and heavy industrial settings. The Biden administration has prioritized environmental justice in the new infrastructure law.

Bates acknowledged some movement to reverse the problems but pointed out Black communities often are not made aware of policy developments. For example, Bates pointed out initiatives to provide subsidies for solar panels are not heavily advertised in Black communities.

She argued the gap goes beyond whether the programs are affordable.

“Not just the financial means,” Bates explained. “But that they have the knowledge of what’s going on when you consider that lower-income families often are also working multiple jobs, and don’t usually have the time or space to absorb all the things happening in civic life around them.”

She added Black-led groups are doing their part by creating greater awareness of climate issues in their communities.

Bates emphasized environmental racism can be tied to other historical inequities in Black neighborhoods, and while it may take a long time to fully overcome barriers, she contended recent history of political willpower provides hope.

“When COVID-19 became very prominent and very real in our lives, there was a bunch of legislation that passed that people had been working on for years,” Bates remarked. “It was able to pass in almost the blink of an eye, because we recognized the urgent need.”

And with more urgency behind environmental matters, she hopes it translates to expanding the types of infrastructure to make marginalized communities more climate-resilient.

Mike Moen is a writer for the Minnesota News Connection.

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