Activist Hilton Kelley poses along the railroad tracks that divide East and West Port Arthur Monday, March 23, 2020, in Port Arthur, Texas. "Now we may not drop dead that day," Kelley said of the environmental protection rollbacks, and the communities surrounding the refineries and plants. "But when you're inundated day after day...we're dead. We're dead." Credit: David J. Phillip | AP

Instead of prioritizing relief for struggling families, the Trump administration continues to use the coronavirus pandemic to bail out fossil fuel industry executives and roll back health and environmental safeguards. Aid has gone to those who need it least, while the Black, Latinx and Native communities dying at higher rates from the virus have been forced to wait.

To make matters worse, the Trump administration is simultaneously throwing out the environmental safeguards that limit pollution — meaning that these same vulnerable communities are now subject to higher levels of toxins in their air and water.

During the past few months, as the coronavirus has claimed the lives of more than 140,000 Americans, the Trump administration rammed through oil and gas lease sales on hundreds of thousands of acres of public land.

Many of these are near Native communities that have been heavily impacted by the virus as well as the accelerated construction of a destructive border wall.

If the intersection of racism and environmental policy wasn’t clear before the pandemic, it is laid bare now as the highest rates of COVID-19 deaths are found in communities with the most air pollution. And yet, the Trump administration continues to deepen the environmental destruction that hits communities of color the hardest.

Since Donald Trump came to office, his administration has rolled back 100 environmental safeguards, devastated public lands, and made the world less safe for all of us.

In mid-July, it gutted the National Environmental Policy Act, a bipartisan law that has for decades allowed communities to have their voices heard on projects that will directly impact the environment. And, as millions of Americans face the looming threat of evictions, the administration has prioritized hand-outs to corporate polluters, giving more than $58 billion in unconditional aid to fossil fuel companies during the pandemic.

Environmental racism allows industries to dump the bulk of toxic pollution in communities of color. It permits the fossil fuel companies to destroy sacred Native lands for profit. And it exacerbates the climate crisis in communities with the fewest resources to respond.

We can do better, and must, which is why environmental advocates across the country are pushing back. Leaders like Bernadette Demientieff of the Gwich’in Nation have demonstrated the importance of taking a more holistic view of our connection to the environment, as they’ve acted to safeguard the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and their way of life.

And many communities are uniting behind efforts to protect 30 percent of lands and waters by 2030. This will remove carbon from our air, protect clean water and safeguard natural buffers to climate-caused disasters and pandemics worsened by out-of-balance ecosystems.

By recognizing the intersections between racial injustice and the environmental crises our planet faces, as advocates including Hop Hopkins, Dr. Ayana Johnson and Mary Heglar have stressed for years, we can advance viable solutions.

If we bind together to address the systems that precipitate racist and unsustainable environmental policies, and pivot toward the path of protection, we can correct the environmental injustices that have threatened our planet and all of its inhabitants.

Lena Moffitt is director of the Sierra Club’s Our Wild America campaign. This column was produced for the Progressive Media Project, which is run by The Progressive magazine, and distributed by Tribune News Service. The BDN publishes opinions from partner news services to bring a wider variety of perspectives to readers.