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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

By Franco Ordonez, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — It was warm out, and the new mom just wanted to take her baby girl for a walk around the pond in her East Charlotte, N.C., neighborhood. A friend suggested she check the air first.

Code orange: unhealthy for sensitive groups such as children and the elderly.

That was the warning when Danielle Hilton checked the air quality index for Mecklenburg County. She decided she and her daughter, Makena, would do afternoons inside.

That was the summer of 2008. It was a bad time for the Charlotte region in terms of air quality. Some local schools and government offices hoisted color-coded warning flags about breath-stifling ozone levels. The Charlotte metro region had violated federal standards for ozone on at least 24 days by the end of the summer. Twenty-one days were deemed “code orange,” and three days were “code red” — unhealthy for everyone.

It changed Hilton’s outlook on life. She began devouring anything she could find on the environment, power plants and fossil fuels. She attended activism meetings about local power plants and coal ash ponds. She studied the potential impacts of the oil drilling technique known as fracking. She cried watching the struggles of polar bears living on melting ice caps in the Oscar-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth. She worried about Makena’s future.

On Tuesday, Hilton, 40, joined hundreds of mothers from across the country on Capitol Hill calling on members of Congress to address climate change. Hilton planned to meet with Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., and the staff of Rep. Alma Adams, D-N.C.

She planned to share her thoughts not only as a mother, but also as an African-American woman concerned about her community.

Hilton recruited her friend Nakisa Glover to join her in Washington. The two moms, who brought along Glover’s 3-year-old son, Zion, had a secondary goal to infuse some color into an environmentalist movement that historically has been dominated by white people.

They planned to share statistics that show how minority communities suffer more from excessive pollution. They will push members of Congress to increase federal regulations for power plants, which are often located closer to poorer neighborhoods. A 2012 report from the NAACP found that in areas around the 12 most polluting coal-fired power plants in the United States, minorities were about 76 percent of the population.

“They’re not putting these coal ash dumps in Ballyntyne,” Glover said of the upscale, majority-white Mecklenburg neighborhood. “They’re putting them in the under-served and minority, low-income communities.”

The Charlotte region continues to have air quality issues.

But it’s not all bad. The county got an “A” for levels of particle pollution, or soot.

County officials said the primary source of ozone-forming air pollution in Mecklenburg County is cars and trucks on the road.

Asthma is the No. 1 chronic disease among students in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, according to the school system. More than 14,000 Charlotte-Mecklenburg students have been identified with asthma.

“We need action,” Hilton said. “We need it now.”

(c)2015 McClatchy Washington Bureau. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Rose Peltason Arkush, 5, from Takoma Park, Md., holds a sign calling for climate change action as she and her mother (not pictured) attend a rally with Moms Clean Air Force on July 7, 2015 in Washington, D.C. Hundreds of mothers from across the country are calling on their members of Congress to address climate change for their children’s future. (Lexey Swall/McClatchy/TNS)

Sen. David Perdue

Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) pulled out of his final debate against Democrat Jon Ossoff on Thursday —because he'd rather attend a Donald Trump campaign rally.

The Nov. 1 Senate debate was planned months ago, but Perdue's campaign said he could not participate as promised because he has been too busy doing his job.

"Senator Perdue will not be participating in the WSB-TV debate but will instead join the 45th president, Donald J. Trump, for a huge Get-Out-The-Vote rally in Northwest Georgia. For 8 of the last 14 days of this campaign, Senator Perdue went back to Washington to work for much needed COVID relief," his spokesperson John Burke said in a statement, referencing a failed attempt by Senate Republicans to pass Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-KY) "skinny" $500 billion proposal.

"To make up for the lost time, Senator Perdue has over 20 campaign stops planned for the closing days of this race, and he is excited to welcome and join President Trump in Georgia before November 3rd to campaign for both of their re-election efforts," Burke added.

WSB-TV noted on Thursday that it offered Perdue's campaign other time slots to accommodate the Trump rally, but the overture was rebuffed.

Ossoff's campaign blasted Perdue's "cowardly withdrawal," saying in a statement that the move "says it all: David Perdue feels entitled to his office, and he'll do anything to avoid accountability for his blatant corruption and his total failure during this unprecedented health crisis."

The incumbent's decision to break his promise to debate came one day after a video of Jon Ossoff criticizing Perdue's anti-Obamacare record at a Wednesday debate went viral. As of Friday morning, a 72-second clip of Ossoff has been viewed more than 12 million times.

Perdue responded to that attack by making the odd claim that he repeatedly voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act — which would take insurance away from hundreds of thousands of his constituents — because he believed doing so would cover more people.

"I voted against the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, because it was taking insurance away from millions of Georgians. Today almost 18 percent of Georgians don't have any health insurance because of the Affordable Care Act," he falsely claimed.

This is not the first time Perdue has put Trump ahead of the interests of Georgians. According to FiveThirtyEight, he has voted with Trump about 95 percent of the time, including backing his right-wing Supreme Court nominees, his tax cuts for large corporations and the very wealthy, and his repeated attempts to take money from military families to pay for a massive Southern border wall.

Medical experts and data analyses have suggested Trump's rallies have been super-spreader events for the coronavirus. Trump has refused to adhere to social distancing rules or to require mask usage at the events and the mass gatherings have frequently been immediately followed by case spikes in the communities where he holds them.

One poll this week found that voters across the country said they are less likely to vote for Trump because of his "large, in-person campaign rallies where wearing a mask is not required of attendees."

The race between Ossoff and Perdue is considered a "toss-up" by election experts, and polls show it as virtual tied.

If no candidate gets a majority on Tuesday, the top two finishers will face off in a January runoff.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.