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Connecting the Green Dots

2/28/2013, 11:58 a.m.

It's time for some Blacks leaders to end their narrow thinking about the issue of sustainability and the green economy.

Mayor Vincent Gray is not among them. He recently released a forward-thinking plan, which he calls the Sustainable DC Plan (www.sustainable.dc.gov) which includes 32 goals, 31 targets, and 143 specific action items in the areas of the environment, energy, food, nature, transportation, waste and water. In the end, Gray hopes to make the District of Columbia the healthiest, greenest and most livable city in the nation over the next 20 years.

It's a plan that allows the District to catch up with many cities on the west coast that lead the nation on environmental issues, and it puts the District on par with the environmental movement that's sweeping the country.

President Barack Obama talked about a national plan for sustainability in his State of the Union Address. In the next 20 years, he wants to end the wasteful use of energy and create new sources of energy that are cheaper and more environmentally friendly, as well.

But Gray has his critics. Chief among them is Ward 8 Council member Marion Barry who was quoted in a Washington Post article written by Tim Craig as saying, "Black folks are concerned about the environment, but they are also concerned about jobs. Gardens on roofs are fine, but if you are hungry, it's not enough. You might have clean air to breathe, but it doesn't matter if you are also broke."

Mr. Barry's point is well taken, but it's not well thought through. Gray's plan, as does the president's, calls for jobs and job training which is essential to the success of this drastic environmental overhaul. And, while we respect and acknowledge the role Mr. Barry played in filling hundreds of jobs during his tenure as mayor, the jobs he filled no longer exist. The future for job seekers, including "Black folks" will hinge on the creation of a new green economy.

The focus of any sustainable plan should be in neighborhoods like the ones Mr. Barry represents. Poorer neighborhoods are the ones in which environmental and civil rights advocates have identified as sites where environmental racism is predominant. They tend to be the closest to hazardous waste facilities and other "toxic spots" and where children have the greatest exposure to lead - the areas where asthma among children and adults is rampant.

We encourage Mr. Barry to get on board with this new movement and begin to plant seeds in the schools and communities he serves. His constituents deserve a healthy, green and livable community. They also deserve the jobs it will take to build it.