California Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee has a long and proven history of standing up to those who consciously chip away at the rights of citizens to have clean air and water.

Lee, 69, has also been a lifelong advocate for the minority community and, as a college student, she volunteered at the Oakland chapter of the Black Panther Party’s Community Learning Center working with Panther co-founder Bobby Seale during his mayoral campaign in 1973.

As Earth Day 2016 approached, Lee was again front and center on environmental issues, including those that affect African Americans and other minorities.

“When corporations and special interests pollute our environment, all too often it is low-income families and communities of color that bear the highest burden,” said Lee, who’s a member of the Safe Climate Caucus & Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition.

“From sky-high childhood asthma rates to lead poisoning, these communities feel the real impact of pollution, climate change and systemic injustice,” she said.

Now, in its 46th year, Earth Day is focusing on the importance of trees this year and has put out the call to plant 7.8 billion trees over the next five years.

Officials said trees will be the first of five major goals they’re undertaking in honor of the five-year countdown to Earth Day’s 50th anniversary.

On their own and together, these initiatives will make a significant and measurable impact on the Earth and will serve as the foundation of a cleaner, healthier and more sustainable planet for all, officials said.

For Lee, environmental activism is like tying her shoes.

The dedicated congresswoman has regularly opposed attempts to cut spending on environmental and health protections and has supported maintaining and strengthening current environmental protection standards.  

“Helping to address climate change and protect our nation’s clean air, water and natural environment are priorities,” Lee said.

The congresswoman also believes that efforts must be made to protect the environment here at home with the work of the international community, she said.

To that end, the U.S. should be a leader in advocating for positive change, rather than an obstacle in addressing climate change, pollution, over-fishing and other environmental challenges, Lee said.

With asthma diagnoses among the urban poor reaching alarming rates, African-American and Latino children are more likely to live in urban communities that do not meet EPA air quality standards, Lee said, adding that she’s committed to fighting for public health and the environment in these communities.

Three years ago, Lee joined Congressman Henry Waxman and 21 other members in co-founding the Safe Climate Caucus – dedicated to spreading the word about the disastrous effects of climate change and advocating for legislation that will protect our environment for future generations.  

Later, she introduced a concurrent resolution recognizing the disproportionate impact that climate change has on women and praising the unique contributions of women in addressing this serious problem all around the world. The legislation also highlights the need to engage women as stakeholders in the fight to address climate change

In addition, she hosted the briefing “Less Carbon, More Jobs: How Tackling Climate Change Can Create Jobs and Expand Economic Opportunity,” which focused on expanding opportunities for communities of color in the green economy. She then co-signed a letter to the president urging him to include environmental justice issues in his Climate Action Plan.

“For generations, African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders and low-income communities have been disproportionately hurt by pollution,” Lee said. “You can clearly see these disparities in the childhood asthma rates for these communities.”

Lee helped to introduce the Low-Income Solar Access Act [H.R. 3041] that would expand solar energy access to low-income communities and enable them to build sustainable, community-based energy generation that doesn’t further pollute their communities.

“Enough is enough,” she said. “We can no longer wait for environmental justice; we must demand it. We must raise our voices, bring the ‘street heat’ and demand real reforms from our leaders. There is simply too much at stake to do nothing.

“We are talking about our children’s health and their futures. As policymakers, parents and grandparents, and community members, we must turn up the ‘street heat’ and push back against the special interests that reject science and are willing to risk our children’s health.”

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