By James Wright, Special to the AFRO, [email protected]

African Americans in the District of Columbia are concerned about the quality of the environment and are taking steps to become more active.

On April 13, a handful of Black residents attended a rally in front of the John A. Wilson Building to demand a cleaner environment and for carbon rebate legislation from the D.C. Council. The participants of the rally want the city to divest its public funds from companies that make money off of fossil fuels such as oil giant ExxonMobil and penalize local companies, such as Washington Gas and Pepco, which emit carbon monoxide in the city’s air.

This image provided by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in 2018 shows observed ocean temperature changes since 1870, and currents in the Atlantic Ocean. A study released on Wednesday, April 11, 2018 suggests global warming is likely slowing the main Atlantic Ocean circulation, which has plunged to its weakest level on record. Now Washingtonians are now out on how climate change affects them directly. (AP Photo)

Camilla Thorndike is the campaign co-director for Our Climate, an advocacy organization that supports confronting climate change. Our Climate has launched a nationwide program “Put a Price On It” that would tax the use of carbon fuels.

In the District, the instrument for making fossil fuel emitters pay would be the “Climate and Community Reinvestment Act of 2018” that, Thorndike said, will be introduced in the June 5 legislative session of the D.C. Council.

“I was told by [D.C. Council Chairman Phil] Mendelson that the bill would be introduced on June 5 and it has the overwhelming support of the council,” she said. “There is an inevitability that will be a carbon fee.”

The bill would tax polluters $20 per ton of carbon monoxide that goes into the air starting in 2019 and go up to $150 per ton by 2032. The money raised would be rebated to city residents through their energy bills.

Kymone Freeman, Ward 8 civic activist and co-founder of We Act Radio who has strong ties to the city’s robust environmental groups, had plenty to say at the rally.

“The fossil fuels companies are the wealthiest industries,” he said. “They get tens of millions in tax subsidies every year. The Environmental Protection Agency used to be a paper tiger and now it is just paper.”

Freeman said climate change is so profound in the District that the animals are confused about what to do when the weather changes and so are the cherry blossoms.

“When you deal with the fossil fuel companies you have to speak their language and that’s why you should put a tax on it,” he said. “You all should give D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, the members of the D.C. Council and the privately-financed Federal City Council hell before they destroy our planet.”

Assata Harris is an Our Climate organizer and participated in the rally.  She told the AFRO that she grew up in Richmond, Calif., and lived by a Chevron refinery.

“People in my community had asthma because of this refinery,” she said. “It is the vulnerable communities that pay when there is climate change.”

Harris said African Americans have to be engaged in environmental issues in order to get a response.

“When African Americans understand how climate change affects them, they will be in the forefront of the movement,” she said.

Freeman and Harris were among the African Americans who visited the offices of D.C. Council member Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7) and D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) to ask for support for the Climate and Community bill.