(WASHINGTON, D.C.)—House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva and Rep. Donald McEachin have introduced the landmark Environmental Justice for All Act. The bill would strengthen the ability of communities overburdened by multiple sources of harmful pollution to protect and enforce their rights to good health and a clean, safe environment.
The Environmental Justice for All Act is the product of extensive consultation with affected communities. This comprehensive legislation addresses the many environmental, public health, accessibility, legal, and financial challenges that marginalized communities face. Sen. Tammy Duckworth introduced the companion bill in the Senate.
In the Bay watershed and nationwide, communities of color, low-income communities, and other marginalized populations are more likely to be exposed to harmful environmental impacts from toxic facilities.
The legacy of racist housing policies compounds the problem by leaving environmental justice communities more vulnerable to excess heat, intense storms, regular flooding, and other hazards exacerbated by climate change.
Portsmouth, VA, for instance, is a predominantly Black, low-income community and home to extreme concentrations of toxic waste and hazardous air pollutants from nine Superfund sites within a 15-mile radius. Consistent flooding only exacerbates this threat. Longtime residents report suffering from various cancers, hormonal problems, and infertility.
The Environmental Justice for All Act would require the federal government to consider the cumulative impact of a proposed project on local communities. A new incinerator or a fossil fuel-fired power plant might alone present a small pollution burden. But when built in a neighborhood already subject to pollution from existing facilities and operations, it can cause exponentially greater harm to the community.
The legislation would prohibit the federal government from approving permits for projects that cannot demonstrate with reasonable certainty they would not damage the health of area residents.
Another important provision of the bill would require federal agencies to provide environmental justice communities early and meaningful opportunities to be heard as they consider whether to greenlight projects that would directly affect them and their local environment.
The bill would also strengthen the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and create a path to the courts for affected communities. Doing so would ensure that private citizens, residents, and organizations can seek legal remedy when faced with discrimination.
Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) Vice President for Environmental Protection and Restoration Alison Prost said:
“Just as biodiversity is essential to a thriving ecosystem, human diversity is essential to saving the Chesapeake Bay. Clean water, clean air, and a healthy environment are rights we all share.
“The Environmental Justice for All Act is a crucial step toward empowering communities across the Bay watershed and around the country to fight systemic environmental racism and safeguard the health of their families and their neighborhoods.
“CBF applauds House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva and Rep. Donald McEachin for their commitment to ensuring that underserved communities get meaningful opportunities to address the multiple environmental and health threats they face.”
CBF Environmental Justice Staff Attorney Taylor Lilley said:
“For too long, environmental justice has been seen as a box to be checked. The Environmental Justice for All Act recognizes that environmental injustice cannot be addressed without targeted and comprehensive action or the meaningful involvement of affected communities in the regulatory process.
“By drawing on the guarantees of the Civil Rights Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Clean Air Act, the Environmental Justice for All Act would help underrepresented communities have the power to protect their homes, their families, and themselves from harmful, toxic pollution.”