Last week, the Center for Progressive Reform joined 90 organizations in expressing strong support for the Environmental Justice for All Act (EJ for All Act) in a letter as the bill went before the House Committee on Natural Resources for markup.
The coalition, led by Coming Clean, a collaborative of environmental health and environmental justice experts, and the Environmental Justice Health Alliance (EJHA) for Chemical Policy Reform, urged committee members to advance this important legislation to the House floor. The bill, introduced by Reps. Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona and Donald McEachin of Virginia, is the most significant effort by the federal government to address generations of environmental racism.
Although the bill passed in committee last Tuesday by a 26 to 21 vote, its future is unclear. Before the bill is sent to the House floor, it must overcome concerns that it has jurisdictional overlap with the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Even if it passes the House, it is unlikely that it will pass the U.S. Senate this cycle due to GOP opposition. But that's no reason to stop fighting for it.
The EJ for All Act is a long overdue response to our nation's failed chemical management policies and the cumulative hazards and disproportionate harms that polluters have foisted upon communities of color, low-income communities, and Indigenous peoples.
In 2014, EJHA released a report finding that people of color are far more likely than white people to live near "fenceline zones" — areas where residents face high health and safety risks due to their proximity to chemical facilities. Residents in these zones are more likely than people who live farther away from such facilities to be sickened, injured, or killed from a chemical leak, explosion, or fire.
A 2020 report by the National Resources Defense Council, Coming Clean, and EJHA revealed that race, ethnicity, and language had a strong relationship to slow and inadequate enforcement of the Safe Drinking Water Act, which protects public health by regulating the nation's public drinking water supply. Water systems that serve the most burdened communities are more likely to be in violation of the law.
The EJ for All Act can begin to correct these injustices and address this legacy of harm.
A Law by the People, for the People
The EJ for All Act was created using a unique legislative process to ensure the priorities of environmental justice communities were incorporated into the final legislation. The bill reflects the diverse experiences and needs of communities that have long borne the brunt of pollution and the climate crisis. The leadership of frontline communities on this legislation evidenced by the organizations representing impacted community members, public health experts, sustainable business and food advocates, faith communities, farmworkers, and climate activists.
The legislation paves the way for remedying a long history of environmental harm and racism and ensuring the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of health and environmental laws, regulations, and policies by:
- Requiring the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to consider cumulative health impacts (the successive and combined impacts of toxins on public and environmental health) under the Clean Air and Water Acts.
- Strengthening the Civil Rights Act to restore the ability of individuals and organizations facing the impacts of discrimination to seek legal remedies.
- Providing $75 million in annual grants for research and program development to reduce health disparities and improve public health in environmental justice communities (those facing the highest risk of environmental harm).
- Creating an economic development assistance fund — paid for through new fees on oil, gas, and coal companies — to support communities and workers as they transition away from greenhouse gas-dependent economies and toward clean energy.
- Supporting access to parks and recreational opportunities that benefit underserved communities.