On 30 July, the Environmental Justice for All Act was introduced in the US Senate. It is companion legislation to that introduced earlier in the year in the US House of Representatives.
If passed, the bill would authorize regulators to consider cumulative impacts in permitting decisions under the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act; authorise $75 million USD to support projects to address environmental and public health issues; require greater community involvement in agency decision making; and amend the Civil Rights Act to allow private citizens and organizations that experience discrimination in environmental programs to seek legal remedies.
The Bill acknowledges that environmental racism fuels disparities in environmental and public health and its impacts are evident across society. Systemic barriers such as unregulated pollution, intentional disinvestment, and redlining have an especially devastating impact on communities of colour, low-income communities, tribal communities, and other vulnerable populations, such as children, elderly, and persons with disabilities.
The premise of the bill is that all people have a right to breathe clean air, drink clean water, and live free of dangerous levels of environmental pollution, irrespective of their race, national origin, or income level.
The legislation, developed in the past year in collaboration with advocates and stakeholders in the environmental community, aims to achieve climate justice and health equity for all, but most particularly for underserved communities and those of colour.
In the current bi-partisan environment it seems unlikely that the bill will pass. However, the COVID-19 pandemic and the social unrest in the US following the death of George Floyd has brought a new focus on environmental justice and how the multiple routes of environmental exposure compound health impacts within communities of color. As such, environmental justice issues may continue to be a priority for Democrat leadership in the US House and Senate.
“Confronting generations of systemic racism to achieve true justice will require us to recognize the role environmental racism has played and redress that by investing in long-term, sustainable environmental justice solutions to center and empower communities that have for far too long been excluded,” said co-sponsor Senator Harris.
“Communities of color face public health challenges—which also make them more susceptible to the effects of the deadly COVID-19 virus—at alarming rates while too many in power look the other way,” co-sponsor Senator Duckworth said. “I’m proud to be helping Senator Harris introduce this important bill, which would go a long way to making sure that every American has the right to breathe safe air, drink clean water and live on uncontaminated land, regardless of their zip code, the size of their wallet or the color of their skin.”
This legislation has the support of dozens of environmental justice groups and leaders.