Will The Next Stimulus Law Provide a Lifeline for Frontline Communities?

The fight for environmental justice is the fight for your life.      Image: Wake Forest University

The Senate Democrats’ Environmental Justice Caucus laid out in a letter on Monday their vision for the next round of economic stimulus funding and the benefits in their proposal are intended to address the inequities of the virus’ impacts on the poor and minorities.  It contains a series of mandates, such as outlawing local utilities from shutting off water or power to a home for failure to make payments, plus government programs that would both fund good jobs and help people in these communities, such as weatherization assistance to make homes in low-income areas more energy-efficient or orphan toxic waste site cleanups.

Why This Matters:  These 16 Democrats are speaking up on behalf of members of low income, rural and communities of color (known as an environmental justice or frontline communities) who are especially vulnerable to the virus and don’t have access to quality health care that could vastly improve their chances of recovery.  As the authors say, “the fourth stimulus we pass must include the policies listed below that will reduce public health vulnerabilities. Americans under orders to shelter in place should have power, heat, and a safe environment.”  It may be DOA, but it would be a good starting point for Dems if they win the White House in November.

What They Want:

1. “Provide emergency utility support to families and guarantee no utility shut-offs by:

  • “Funding emergency relief at $5 billion.”
  • Congress must fund an immediate moratorium on water shutoffs for residential households along with restoration of service to those households who have experienced shutoffs. In this time of crisis, where hygiene and access to water is an imperative public health issue, no family in the U.S. should be without water. “
  • “Funding the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program at $17 billion dollars: LIHEAP assists families with energy costs related to energy bills, weatherization and energy-related home minor repairs.”
  • “Funding the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) at $7 billion: WAP provides weatherization for low-income households, leading to $238 or more in average savings on energy costs annually for customers.”
  • “Funding the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) Program at $3.2 billion: These programs should also prioritize communities left that cannot afford the upfront costs of energy efficiency upgrades, but would benefit from its energy and costs savings.”

2. “Address toxic pollution by:

  • “Funding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance at $552 million; creating a new program under it called the Office of Cumulative Impacts to be funded at $100 million”
  • “Reinstating and funding the Office of Environmental Justice at EPA at $100 million”
  • “Funding EPA’s Superfund and Brownfield programs at $20 billion with funding set aside for workforce training and renewable energy development: To accelerate toxic site cleanup and protect the 53 million people living within three miles of the existing 1,836 Superfund sites”
  • “Passing the Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Fee Extension Act of 2019 to clean up legacy mine sites that have been abandoned”
  • “Passing the Reclaim Act to accelerate the clean-up of abandoned coal mines while creating jobs in areas hard-hit by the decline of the coal industry”
  • “Passing portions of the Environmental Cleanup Infrastructure Act to fund cleanup of orphan Superfund Sites and defense and former atomic energy sites”

3.  Recognize “the human right to clean, safe, and affordable drinking and waste water services for all” by:

  • “Reauthorizing the Clean Water State Revolving (CWSRD) Loan Fund and funding it at the funding levels in H.R. 1497 the Water Quality Protection and Job Creation Act”
  • “Increasing funding for the Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund to $2 billion and requiring states to use twenty percent of its capitalization grant to provide grants, negative interest loans, and forgiveness of principal for small and disadvantaged communities”
  • “Addressing lead in drinking water by passing several provisions”

4.  Create “Economic Opportunity for all” by:

  • “Bring People of Color and Low Income People into New Environmental Careers $5 billion across four programs”
  • “Funding EPA’s Diesel Emission Reduction Grant program at least at $100 million and the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) Low or No Emission Vehicle Program at $500 million”

To Go Deeper:  Read the full letter here.

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