CP Photo: Ryan Deto
A year and half ago, Summer Lee wasn’t an environmentalist. Lee, who won a Democratic primary election for Pennsylvania state House in May, started her activism
with social-justice issues in the Woodland Hills School District.
But, on Friday, she joined 25 environmentalists at the Allegheny County Courthouse and called on everyday Pittsburghers and public officials to support stricter penalties on polluters. She mentions the Edgar Thomson US Steel Mill in Braddock, and its role as job-creator and polluter
“Clean air is a basic human right,” said Lee. “That steel mill. Yeah, we rely on the jobs, but it is also killing us.”
Lee, who faces no general election opponent and will likely become Western Pennsylvania's first black female state legislator
, feels empowered to speak up for environmental rights because poor air quality hurts her community the most.
She grew up in the Mon Valley and says people in her community are “usually are most impacted” by air pollution.
The Allegheny County Health Department has taken recent steps to address the region’s poor air quality. In June, a $1 million fine
was levied by the county against U.S. Steel and its Clairton Coke Works.
PennEnvironment’s Ashleigh Deemer lauded the county for its recent efforts. She said the group’s increased action have been effective in motivating county officials to take action.
“There is so much more to do,” said Deemer. Allegheny County received a failing air-quality grade in 2018 from the American Lung Association
To push back against air pollution, Lee said Allegheny County needs to elect more politicians who are unapologetically pro-environment. Given that most politicians in Allegheny County are Democrats, she said targeting candidates who are struggling to back environmental regulations in primary elections could be effective.
“We can [have] candidates who are brave and bold,” said Lee. “We are gonna get rid of everybody who does not fight for clean air.”