Democrats Introduce Environmental Justice Legislation with Advocate Support

by Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer

Congressional Democrats are making environmental justice a focus of their climate agenda., Recently, t two new bills were introduced that seek to lower utility bills and decrease the disproportionate burden of pollution experienced by communities of color. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), who is reintroducing the Environmental Justice for All Act which was first introduced in August 2020 by then-Senator Kamala Harris, says that these communities are disproportionately suffering the consequences of climate change.

We have structural injustice when it comes to access to a clean environment,” she said. “Communities of color, poorer communities, are where we’ve tended to put our most toxic industries and they have borne the brunt of our nation developing.”

Why This Matters: Across America, people of color and low-income communities are more likely to live near polluting industries, suffer adverse health effects of pollution, pay more for energy, and more.

  • Both urban and rural low-income communities spend three times as much on energy than affluent households.
  • People of color make up 56% of neighborhood populations nearby toxic pollutants.
  • A 2017 EPA report found that low-income communities are more at risk of severe flooding and dangerously high indoor temperatures due to outdated infrastructure.

Because of these risks, affected communities can have lower life expectancies than affluent neighborhoods. In Chicago, Duckworth said she discovered life expectancy gaps of up to 16 years between wealthy and white neighborhoods and their poorer and more diverse counterparts. Now, she’s working to make sure the government has the tools to adequately measure and fight pollution in the neighborhoods that need it most.


A Two-Pronged Solution: Along with the Environmental Justice for All Act, which would strengthen the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and create a national working group to ensure compliance, Duckworth, Representative Cori Bush (D-Mo.), and Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.) are also introducing the Environmental Justice Mapping and Data Collection Act of 2021.

  • The bill would create a budget for the identification and collection of data used to gauge pollution in impacted neighborhoods.
  • Environmental mapping can combine information about water quality, air quality, proximity to green space, and utility costs to create a full picture of the impacts of climate change and inequity. 
  • A similar program has already been tested in California, and residents can even go online to see their neighborhood’s score.

It’s not just Congressional Democrats that are eager to see these bills pass. Advocates from more than 70 grassroots organizations have announced their support for the legislation, and say the pandemic has shed light on how necessary these measures are to closing equity gaps. Conservation Law Foundation President Bradley Campbell says that this act gives the people a voice. “Senator Markey’s bill will ensure that these communities get the resources they need to protect their families and businesses while giving them a voice in government decisions that affect them. This bill recognizes that it’s past time to remedy the longstanding injustice suffered by frontline communities,” he said.


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