EJ Bills Introduced In Congress Now Set the Stage For Next Year

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Environmental Justice legislation is getting lots of attention this year as numerous bills are pending in Congress on a topic that, until now, barely received attention. Yesterday, Senator Cory Booker and Representative Deb Haaland rolled out a bill that would put $100 billion dollars toward eliminating pollution that has disproportionately harmed communities of color, indigenous communities, and low-income communities through generous grants to states and communities.  And last summer, Senator Booker, along with Senators Kamala Harris and Tammy Duckworth, proposed comprehensive environmental justice legislation to achieve health equity and climate justice for underserved communities and communities of color.  And as we wrote last month, Senator Harris recently introduced another bill — this one would create a dedicated Office of Climate and Environmental Justice Accountability within the White House and require the federal government to rate the effect that every environmental legislation or regulation would have on low-income communities.

Why This Matters:  Lisa Friedman of  The New York Times wrote last month that by putting Senator Harris on the ticket with him, Vice President Biden signaled that environmental justice will be high on their agenda.  “It says that…focusing on our most vulnerable communities…will be a priority,” Mustafa Santiago Ali, who ran the Environmental Protection Agency’s environmental justice office, told the Times.  It’s about time.

Booker’s New Bill

Booker’s new bill is unique in that it aims to fix historic problems in places like Louisiana’s cancer alley and on Native American Reservations.  In introducing the bill, Senator Booker said, “In our nation, the biggest determining factor of whether you live near toxic pollution, whether you drink contaminated water, or whether you breathe dirty air is the color of your skin and your economic status.  That’s wrong, and it’s time to make it right. In order for communities of color, low-income communities, and indigenous communities to thrive, this legacy of pollution must be eliminated. ”  This bill provides big bucks to do it.

  • $35 billion to clean up the most dangerous toxic sites in the country,
  •  $20 billion to replace lead drinking water service lines, and
  • 3 billion to provide all American Indians and Alaska Natives with safe drinking water and adequate sewerage systems in their homes.

Plus it would prohibit new major source air pollution permits in communities that EPA has identified as already having a heightened risk of cancer due to air pollution and in communities currently overburdened by particulate matter (PM2.5) air pollution, and prohibit the renewal of major source air pollution permits in these communities beginning in 2025.   Ali said of this new legislation “We need solutions as big as the problems we face — and this bill will rightly confront the environmental injustices plaguing communities of Color and neighborhoods our leaders have treated as national sacrifice zones.”   Booker and Haaland hope that this bill could be part of a bigger package of environmental legislation that would be enacted should Biden and Harris win election and Democrats take over control of the Senate.

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