THE BLOG
06/11/2014 08:01 pm ET Updated Aug 11, 2014

Turnout, Turnaround?

Overall voter turnout is notoriously low in non-presidential years, and especially so among low income Americans. In fact, they have always lagged behind their more affluent countrymen even when the White House was up for grabs. (For example, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that only 31 percent of households earning $10,000 or less voted in the 2012 presidential election.)

Now would be an opportune time to change the course of history. It would behoove those in the lower income brackets to beef up their participation at the ballot box this November and make their presence felt in a big way. No one in the nation is more vulnerable to toxic pollution than they are, and depending on whom is elected to Congress, their exposure could be compromised even more than it already is.

The working class at the bottom of the income ladder suffers the most from the adverse public health effects of environmental degradation. That is because its neighborhoods invariably offer the path of least resistance to location of industrial polluters' facilities. One recent University of Minnesota study found that low income non-whites inhale 38 percent higher levels of noxious air pollutants than their Caucasian neighbors. It is glaring testimony to low income Americans' lack of political clout, and has painful consequences. According to University researchers, if pollutant concentrations in economically depressed neighborhoods could be reduced to levels present in more affluent locales, an estimated 7000 fatalities annually from heart disease could be prevented.

Since most residents in heavily polluted communities cannot afford to pick up and relocate, their salvation lies in stricter environmental regulation. Hence, they need to flock to the polls en mass, hopefully with a choice available in the booth to better their lot.

It shouldn't be too difficult to employ a process of elimination in picking the most desirable candidate. Many congressional Republicans seeking reelection have already shown their true colors. In past sessions, they have passed bills that would cripple federal regulatory agencies by either delaying or blocking altogether more stringent environmental rules. (A Democratic controlled Senate fortunately has let the legislation die in committee.)

Republican lawmakers have defended their efforts as a way of preventing regulation from imposing onerous increases in working class Americans' energy bills. The GOP claim doesn't survive objective economic analysis, which calculates anti-pollution regulation would cost households an extra $45 a year by 2020 and $65 by 2030. Most Republicans also won't concede the considerable monetary benefits of improved public health from reduced pollution exposure, and if elected, are unlikely to change their tune.

Given that unyielding prognosis, low income voters need to overcome whatever transportation difficulties, registration hang ups, and long standing political detachment have previously impeded their participation.

Hopefully, they will shake off their apathy at the polls and recognize the importance of electing a candidate who represents their best interests. What is clear is it won't be a candidate who wants to roll back the very environmental protections that so desperately need to be expanded.