The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) announced its endorsement of the A. Donald McEachin Environmental Justice for All Act, which was introduced today by House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.). Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) introduced companion legislation in the Senate today as well.
Named for the late Richmond-area congressman and environmental justice champion, the legislation would empower, support, and protect low-income communities, communities of color, and tribal or Indigenous communities in the Bay watershed and around the country that are too often disproportionately burdened by multiple environmental and public health threats caused by polluting facilities such as natural gas pipelines, trash incinerators, and industrial plants.
The legacy of racist housing policies compounds the problem by leaving communities in cities like Baltimore, Harrisburg, Richmond, and Washington, D.C., more vulnerable to extreme heat, intense storms, frequent flooding, sea level rise, and other hazards exacerbated by climate change.
McEachin, who died last November, and Grijalva drafted the initial legislation in 2019 after gathering extensive input from environmental justice advocates and communities across the country.
Based on feedback from people who experience environmental injustice firsthand, the bill offers a comprehensive set of community-driven approaches to overhauling an inherently unjust federal system that fails to distribute resources equitably or listen to the voices of communities it marginalizes.
The McEachin Environmental Justice for All Act would protect communities from discrimination based on experiencing unequal impacts, such as elevated health risks, from pollution or other environmental degradation based on residents’ race, color, or national origin. The bill also would permit private citizens and organizations to sue when faced with such discrimination.
The bill would require federal agencies to consider the cumulative effects of permitting major projects like pipelines and dams in vulnerable and underserved communities. It also calls for federal agencies to provide early, meaningful opportunities for affected communities to actively participate in permitting decisions and offer community-led solutions. And it would block permits for projects that cannot demonstrate with reasonable certainty that they would not harm human health.
In addition, the legislation would authorize $75 million annually for environmental justice grant programs, promote more equitable access to parks and recreational opportunities for underserved urban communities, and ensure that environmental justice communities and workers are not left behind in the transition to a clean energy economy.
Carmera Thomas-Wilhite, CBF Vice President for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice, issued the following statement on the bill:
“All people in the Bay region and around the country have the right to a clean, safe, healthy environment, regardless of who they are or where they live.
“The A. Donald McEachin Environmental Justice for All Act would equip marginalized communities with a comprehensive set of legal, financial, and policy tools to combat the kind of entrenched environmental injustice that results in nine Superfund toxic waste sites being located within a 15-mile radius of the predominantly Black community of Portsmouth, Va., or deadly heat islands threatening formerly red-lined neighborhoods in Baltimore and Harrisburg.
“I can think of no greater way to honor Rep. McEachin’s legacy of fighting for environmental justice and health equity than for Congress to act on this landmark legislation without further delay.”