Exclusive interview with Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA-13)

ODP: You’ve represented the East Bay Area cities of Oakland and Berkeley for over 20 years and have been a steadfast voice on Capitol Hill about the issue of environmental justice. Statistics show that your constituents in West Oakland (a predominantly black and low-income community) are exposed to harmful air pollution at rates five times higher than people in more gentrified parts of Oakland. Although overcoming this disparity is difficult, what steps can Congress take to ensure that a person’s zip code doesn’t determine if the air they breathe and the water they drink is safe?

BL: Bills like the Green New Deal are designed to tackle this very issue – and so much more. The biggest step Congress can take right now is to address climate change and pollution through concrete legislative action. Low-income communities and communities of color bear the brunt of pollution and environmental degradation. And we know these disparities will only be further accelerated by climate change. As a consequence of pollution and environmental injustice, communities of color also experience major health disparities, including higher rates of asthma and other diseases. Addressing climate change and pollution aren’t just environmental issues, but also a necessity for racial justice. What makes the Green New Deal so revolutionary is that it takes an intersectional and inclusive approach to climate change. So I’m hopeful that we can get this legislation passed.

ODP: In your view, what will be the opportunities in this new Congress and the Democratic-majority House of Representatives to address climate change and environmental justice issues in America? Is there room for bipartisan efforts?

BL: Last month, the House Natural Resource Committee and the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change held the first congressional hearings on climate change in more than 5 years. Not one hearing on the issue was held while Republicans had control of the House – and the president didn’t even mention climate change in his State of the Union address last week. We can’t wait for them to do the right thing —  Congressional Democrats will move forward to give this critical issue the attention it deserves.

ODP: California’s state government supports and subsidizes residential solar systems which can go a long way in curbing carbon emissions but these systems are still unattainable to a lot of people due to cost. In 2016 you cosponsored H.R. 3041 (the Low-Income Solar Act) which would have helped make solar more attainable in underserved communities, what are the positive outcomes that can arise from making solar readily accessible to low-income communities?

BL: Low-income families spend a significant portion of their income every month on utilities like electricity. Creating wider access to solar energy – which costs less than fossil fuel energy in the long run – will empower low-income households and mitigate pollution at the same time. 

ODP: You’ve been saying for a long time that climate change is a women’s rights issue because women bear the brunt of climate impacts but often don’t have a seat at the table for policy decisions, how can our country work to lessen this disparity at home and abroad through our relief and diplomatic efforts?

BL: Climate change is a women’s rights issue. Around the world, women are more likely to be affected by scarcity, drought, and famine, driven by climate change. It’s imperative that we approach the issue of climate change through an intersectional lens – which is why I have authored the Women and Climate Change Act in 2018. This bold legislation will ensure that women are included at the leadership table as we tackle the challenge of climate change.

ODP: For a fun question: what is your favorite place to get outdoors in your district?

BL: I love Lake Merritt in Oakland! The lake is gorgeous year-round and always buzzing with culture and community. I also like working in my garden at home! There’s something so peaceful about gardening, enjoying our beautiful East Bay, and seeing all the wildlife that surrounds us all.

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