I Am My Sister's Keeper: Black Women Demand Climate Action Now!

In a speech to the Congressional Black Caucus last September, President Obama praised Black women for their resilient dedication to advocating for progress in America. "All of us are beneficiaries of a long line of strong Black women who helped carry this country forward," he said.

That long line of Black women, which includes many of the founders of the National Congress of Black Women like the late Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, former U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman, and the late Dr. Dorothy I. Height, have made tremendous strides and sacrifices to better America and empower Black women.

As president of the National Congress of Black Women, I hope to do the same: better America and empower Black women. It is my job to drive awareness on the most pressing issues we face, which include domestic violence, immigration reform, childhood obesity and equal access to education. Atop that list are the challenges posed by carbon pollution and climate change. It's an environmental, economical, and public health crisis - and it's only getting worse.

The costs to our community are real: 68% of Black Americans live within 30 miles of a polluting coal-fired plant. Without escape from the constant cloud of toxic pollution, Black Americans make on average 350 percent more emergency room visits than white Americans.

"I won't stand by as the lives and families of Black women across this country are endangered by climate change."

The harm to our children is especially alarming. With so many Black families living so close to polluting power plants, Black American children are two to three times more likely to be hospitalized and die from asthma. When children miss days of school, their mothers, sisters, aunts and grandmothers - many who are the sole economic providers for their families - miss hours or even days of work. Affording the inhaler or the visit to the pediatrician is hard enough. Missing shifts only makes it worse.

The terrible impacts of carbon pollution and climate change are real, and we can't ignore them. We can lock arms with the long line of strong Black women and demand action now!

That's why the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)'s Clean Power Plan is so important. The plan, which was finalized by President Obama in August 2015, sets the first federal limits on carbon pollution from power plants and encourages the development of safer, cleaner renewable energy. It's the single biggest action the U.S. has ever taken to cut carbon pollution and combat climate change.

The life-saving rules will yield great health and climate-related benefits - up to $54 billion annually by 2030. In addition to cutting carbon pollution by nearly a third by 2030 the rules will lead to 90,000 fewer asthma attacks and prevent 300,000 missed work and school days. Most importantly, the Clean Power Plan will help avoid up to 3,600 premature deaths.

The Clean Power Plan needs our support. In February, the Supreme Court temporarily paused implementation of the clean air standards. Corporate polluters and their political allies in state capitals have sued to stop the rules. By doing so, they're attempting to block critical public health and economic benefits -- putting profits ahead of our well-being.

To those who value the health of all American families, especially Black American families, we're not alone. In April of this year, a broad coalition of businesses, faith groups, elected officials, professional medical and environmental and health organizations filed "friend of the court" briefs in support of the Clean Power Plan. They defended the strong legal foundation of the rules and touted the immense economic and public health benefits the Clean Power Plan provides from coast to coast.

Join that broad coalition supporting the President's Clean Power Plan. Write your elected officials saying you support the Clean Power Plan and demand they do as well. I am confident that if we work together, we can keep millions of women and children out of harm's way.

A year before his 2015 CBC speech, President Obama announced his My Brother's Keeper initiative to empower young, Black men. Today, as one link in the long line of strong Black women, I am "My Sister's Keeper." I am not a climate scientist, but I am a firm believer in collective change. I won't stand by as the lives and families of Black women across this country are endangered by climate change. These life-saving standards will cut pollution, combat climate change, save lives, and protect Black women and all of God's children. I am My Sister's Keeper. I urge you to be one too.