Do you know what it’s like to silently struggle to breathe every day? To actually feel the polluted, congested air around you hindering your breath and knowing that your struggle is directly connected to your surrounding environment.

Unfortunately, that’s the reality that a significant number of Bronxites live with every day and though I myself have escaped that fate, I fear that that is the future for my 2-year-old son and soon-to-be born daughter.

When my family first moved to the Soundview area of the Bronx 13 years ago, we didn’t realize how much pollution we’d have to put up with. Our neighborhood is intersected by two major highways, the I-95 and I-278, more locally referred to as the Cross Bronx Expressway and the Bruckner. Our neighborhood also sits opposite Hunt’s Point, a major industrial area that sees an extraordinary amount of truck traffic. I grew up in East Harlem, where much like in my current neighborhood, the threat of asthma is much higher than in other parts of the state because of air pollution. Is it fair that I have to worry my son has asthma every time he coughs, or that I feel the need to purchase air filters for my home?

New York needs to fix its pollution problem! Most of this pollution comes from burning fossil fuels—in our cars, our homes, and at power plants. The resulting air pollution lodges in your bloodstream and doesn’t leave. The buildup can cause serious heart and lung disease. I don’t want my kids, or anyone else’s, to have to live among so much pollution, to struggle to breathe when running across the playground or while playing sports during gym. So as a mother, I ask myself, what can I do? And maybe, you are asking yourself that too, and luckily, the answer is, a lot.

In 2019, New York passed a historic law to address pollution and climate change, the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA). The law has some of the most ambitious state-level emissions reductions targets in the country and promises to invest in disadvantaged communities like mine. But although the state’s emission goals are set and legally binding, the plan to reach those goals are not and this is where we, the people, can step in.

The CLCPA called for the formation of the Climate Action Council, a 22-person committee tasked with creating a ‘scoping plan,’ that will decide what steps the state will take to reach its goals. A draft plan has been released and the committee is now hosting public hearings to gather input on how to implement the law. People can also submit comments online or by email until June 10. This is a critical moment where we, the people, have a real opportunity to make our voices heard and influence a plan that will impact the health, safety and sustainability of our communities and families now and for generations to come.

I got involved in climate and energy issues for my kids. I want them to be able to enjoy nature like I do. I want them to grow up without worrying that the air they breathe or water they drink might make them sick. To make sure the CLCPA lives up to its promise of creating thousands of new jobs, reducing pollution, and protecting nature and the climate for generations to come, New Yorkers need to get involved in the public process. This law is our chance to improve the quality of life in neighborhoods that have faced an unfair burden of pollution for decades. It’s a chance to protect and expand our parks, to make utility bills more affordable and not reliant on volatile gas prices, to improve commuting times, to make our homes safer to live in.

Burning fossil fuels in our homes, our cars, and our power plants has caused immense damage to us all. We have cost-competitive and scalable technologies to electrify our way of life and save our planet. The fossil fuel industry desperately wants to convince us that we need to stick with their product, no matter how deadly it is to our kids and our climate. But the scale of investment that the CLCPA will provide, if we get involved and don’t let the fossil fuel industry write our future, will make New York a leader in clean energy, which means our communities will be at the forefront of the new opportunities created by the transition. Time is running out and the time for action is now.

Sirina Nagi is a volunteer with Sierra Club. She grew up in East Harlem, and now lives and raises her 2-year-old son and soon-to-be daughter in Soundview, Bronx.

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