The promise of the Environmental Justice for All Act

The Environmental Justice for All Act (EJ for All Act) is a critical federal legislative effort to begin to address the long history of racism and environmental injustice in the United States, including the cumulative and disproportionate pollution loads that threaten communities of color, low-income communities, and indigenous/indigenous nations and communities across the country.

Importantly, this landmark bill was developed in close collaboration with leaders in the environmental justice movement. The extensive public consultation process that informed the creation of the EJ for All Act has produced unique legislation shaped by the same people and communities who will directly benefit from its policy improvements. Accordingly, the EJ for All Act recognizes that meaningfully improving the lives of Black, Indigenous, and people of color requires transformative change led by those on the front lines. As Michele Roberts, national coordinator for the Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform, described it, “This is legislation our affiliates see themselves in.”

Michele Roberts, National Co-Coordinator of the Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform, speaks during a briefing at the United States Capitol in 2019.

The NRDC strongly supports the core elements of the CY for All Act, which are important steps in addressing a long legacy of harm and ensuring the fair treatment and meaningful participation of all people – regardless of color, culture, national origin or income – with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of health and environmental laws, regulations and policies.

One of the key elements of the EJ for All Act is the strengthening of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), an act that has laid the foundation for public participation in federal government actions since its enactment in 1970. Section 14 of the EJ for All Act will help realize the full potential of NEPA as a powerful tool for environmental justice, by requiring federal agencies to provide early and meaningful community engagement opportunities for proposed projects that can affect an environmental justice community. For advocates like Dr. Mildred McClain, executive director of Harambee House in Savannah, Georgia, it “makes possible the assurance that the frontline and fence communities will always have a seat at the decision-making table.” The EJ for All Act also requires federal agencies proposing an action that may have adverse environmental or public health effects on an environmental justice community to prepare a community impact report. A community impact report will assess whether the proposed action will exacerbate or contribute to adverse health effects in that community, including historical patterns of exposure and cumulative effects, even if those effects are not under the control. control of the agency carrying out the evaluation.

Another important aspect of the EJ for All Act is the Section 7 requirement that federal agencies must consider cumulative impacts in Clean Air Act (CAA) and Clean Water Act licensing decisions. (CWA). The failure to consider cumulative impacts is a long-standing and glaring oversight in environmental regulation and policy-making. It ignores the lived reality of frontline communities, which often face multiple environmental threats at once, alongside social stressors such as racial discrimination, historical trauma, and reduced access to material resources. A burden of cumulative impacts, such as that faced by communities in West Virginia and described by Kathy Ferguson, Acting Executive Director of Our Future West Virginia, is unfortunately not unique: “Communities across the state suffered toxic chemical explosions and leaks into our air. , hazardous runoff from coal mining and fracking in our waterways, corrosive faulty reservoirs that lead to critical contamination of our water supply, soils filled with contaminants like fly ash and other poisons oozing. These events add to the regular drip of routine hazardous emissions and “allowable” pollution.

Science shows that the risks of environmental pollution are heightened when a person or community faces multiple threats and stressors. The EJ for All Act proposal to consider the cumulative impacts of CAA and CWA permits is fundamental to reducing inequalities and ensuring that additional burdens are not placed on those who already experience disproportionate environmental and social vulnerability.

The bill also strengthens the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by restoring the right of individuals to sue in federal court for discrimination based on race, color or national origin, whether the discrimination is intentional or creates an impact. disparate – defined as an action or practice. which, although seemingly neutral, in reality has the effect of subjecting people to discrimination. The provision of this remedy will help make progress toward correcting the uneven pollution load and stark disparities in environmental health experienced by gated communities due to historic and ongoing structural discrimination. As Delaware State Representative and Delaware Concerned Residents for Environmental Justice member Larry Lambert describes, “Growing up in Claymont, Knollwood neighbors used to see a thin layer of steel dust on their car. in the morning and feel it in their lungs. This bill, especially the sections on cumulative impacts and civil rights, is essential for legacy communities like mine, because current laws do not protect us from environmental racism. that poisons our families.”

The EE for All Act is ambitious because it has to be. It responds to the magnitude of the challenges that environmental justice communities face every day in their fight for clean air, clean water, and a healthy and safe environment. This is a long-awaited correction to our nation’s failed chemicals management policies and the resulting cumulative dangers and disproportionate harm to communities of color, low-income communities and indigenous/indigenous communities.

The NRDC looks forward to working with our partners in the environmental justice community, Rep. Grijalva, Rep. McEachin, and other co-sponsors to advance this legislation and begin to correct the long history of environmental injustice in the United States. .

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