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Sept. 30, 2021 by Lisa Heinzerling

Climate Change, Racial Justice, and Cost-Benefit Analysis

This post was originally published on LPE Blog and is part of a symposium on the future of cost-benefit analysis. Reprinted with permission.

President Biden has made climate change and racial justice central themes of his presidency. No doubt with these problems in mind, he has signaled a desire to rethink the process and substance of White House review of agencies' regulatory actions. On his very first day in office, Biden ordered administrative agencies to ensure that this review does not squelch regulatory initiatives nor brush aside "racial justice, environmental stewardship, human dignity, equity, and the interests of future generations." At the same time, however, Biden reaffirmed the "basic principles" of a Clinton-era executive order on White House regulatory review, subjecting agencies' major rules to a cost-benefit test.

These twin inclinations – toward acting boldly on climate change and racial justice, and toward judging regulation using cost-benefit analysis – are trains racing toward each other on the same track. Two entrenched, perhaps even inherent, features of cost-benefit analysis practically ensure that the benefits of regulatory measures addressing climate change and racial injustice will be diminished and deformed in the process of "valuing" them.

The first is the practice of discounting the …

Sept. 2, 2021 by James Goodwin, Robert Verchick
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This op-ed was originally published in The Hill.

A few weeks ago, the Army Corps of Engineers made a startling announcement: It would give Sharon Lavigne and her neighbors in St. James Parish, La., a chance to tell their stories. The fact one of the world’s largest chemical companies has fought for years to keep Lavigne quiet tells you how commanding her stories are. Those stories may stop this particular company from building a multi-billion dollar chemical plant surrounding her neighborhood.

For this, we can thank a simple law, signed by President Nixon in 1970, called the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Unlike other environmental laws, NEPA doesn’t tell agencies what choices they must make — like where to erect a levee or whether to permit a plastics plant. But it does insist their choices be informed. So, before the Army Corps can approve a company …

Aug. 23, 2021 by Rebecca Bratspies
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This blog post is based on my testimony before the New York City Racial Justice Commission, which it tasked with dismantling structural racism in the city’s charter.

This November, New York voters will decide whether to enshrine an explicit environmental right in their state constitution. If adopted, the new section will read, “Every person shall have a right to clean air and water, and a healthful environment.” New York would join several other states, as well as the United Nations and roughly 150 countries across the globe, in recognizing a fundamental human right to breathe clean air and drink clean water.

We all deserve to live in healthy communities. Yet, the grim reality is that Black communities, communities of color, and low-income communities frequently have to fight tooth-and-nail for these basic human rights. This situation is neither accidental nor inevitable. New York City is a clear …

Aug. 12, 2021 by Maggie Dewane
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It came as no surprise to environmentalists this week that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) most recent climate report paints a stark picture: Climate change is happening faster than previously predicted, and the precipice we’re standing on is quickly disintegrating. But there are still plenty of things we can do to battle the climate crisis and adapt to current and future impacts.

Building off the IPCC’s last report in 2013, this assessment brought more than 200 scientists together from around the world to consider all climate research available. The result is the most comprehensive analysis on climate change to date.

Since the last assessment, climate models have become increasingly accurate, making the links between human activity and climate change irrefutable and drawing direct correlations between specific weather events and climate change. 

Other key findings:

  • The last decade was the hottest in 125 …

July 19, 2021 by Colin Hughes
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U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael Regan recently announced that $50 million from the American Rescue Plan will go toward environmental justice programs at the agency. This award will be accompanied by another $50 million to enhance air quality monitoring to target health disparities. This funding will double the amount of grant dollars for EPA’s environmental justice programs by adding $16.7 million in grants and funding for other programs such as school bus electrification, expanded environmental enforcement, and drinking water safety improvements.

Increased funding for environmental justice programs will foster stronger environmental protections for communities — often low-income communities and communities of color — that are forced to combat a disproportionate share of pollution, toxic exposures, and related health and economic consequences. Investment in these communities seeks to reconcile the gap left by environmental racism and a lack of opportunities to meaningfully engage in zoning …

June 9, 2021 by James Goodwin
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In addition to cleaning up our environment, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must also clean up the mess the Trump administration left behind.

The Biden EPA recently took an important step in this direction by finalizing its plan to rescind a Trump-era rule that would drastically overhaul how it analyzes the rules it develops to implement the Clean Air Act. If implemented, Trump's "benefits-busting" rule would have sabotaged the effective and timely implementation of this popular and essential law, which protects the public from dangerous pollution that worsens asthma and causes other diseases. The rescission is slated to take effect next week.

On June 9, the EPA held a public hearing to gather feedback on rescinding the rule, which CPR has been tracking for several years. CPR Member Scholars Rebecca Bratspies and Amy Sinden joined me in testifying in support.

A New and Better Approach …

May 4, 2021 by James Goodwin
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Originally published by the Environmental Law Institute’s “The Environmental Forum” May-June 2021 issue. This is an excerpt.

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By the time the environmental justice movement began taking shape in the 1980s, communities of color had already been suffering from the disproportionate burdens of pollution for decades. Since then, evidence of racially discriminatory patterns in the distribution of environmental harms has only continued to mount.

Researchers from the universities of Michigan and Montana empirically documented in a pair of 2015 studies the phenomenon of “sacrifice zones,” finding that industrial facilities associated with high levels of pollution are disproportionately sited in low-income communities and communities of color.

A 2019 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science found that while White people in the United States are disproportionately responsible for particulate matter pollution — which is linked to heart disease, permanent lung damage, and premature death — Black …

April 20, 2021 by Darya Minovi
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Since President Joe Biden assumed office, environmental justice has been at the front and center of his administration. One key initiative: developing better mapping tools to identify communities that may bear a disproportionate burden of toxic pollution and climate change impacts. Biden’s environmental justice (EJ) plan emphasizes the value of these tools and the need to improve them.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) current tool — known as EJSCREEN — dates to 1994, when President Bill Clinton issued an executive order instructing federal agencies to collect, maintain, and analyze information on environmental and human health risks borne by low-income communities and people of color.

The EPA published EJSCREEN in 2015. It integrates demographic data (such as percent low-income, under the age five, over age 65, etc.) and environmental pollution measures at the block group or census tract level nationwide. The mapped data provide a visual …

April 14, 2021 by Alina Gonzalez, Allison Stevens
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Scholars and advocates of color last week hailed the Biden administration’s efforts to ensure that disadvantaged communities reap the benefits of federal climate investments — but added that the administration must be held accountable for following through on it.

“This is our moment,” said Shalanda Baker, deputy director for energy justice at the U.S. Department of Justice and a Member Scholar with the Center for Progressive Reform who is on leave while serving in the administration. 

Others said the administration’s efforts don’t go far enough and instead called for an overhaul of governance, philanthropy, and an economy that exploits people of color and the planet.

The comments came during a day of dialogue among public officials and climate justice scholars, organizers, and funders representing the Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) community. Participants emphasized the importance of climate justice and culturally responsive climate …

April 6, 2021 by Sarah Krakoff
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This commentary was originally published by The Regulatory Review. Reprinted with permission.

A citizen of the Laguna Pueblo, Deborah Haaland is the first Native American woman to serve as Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Haaland will oversee the federal agencies that manage nearly 480 million acres of federal public lands, while the head of the U.S. Forest Service in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) manages the remaining 190 million acres.

Haaland and her colleague, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, have a tall double-order ahead. In his flurry of first-day executive orders, President Joe Biden announced the entwined goals of addressing racial, economic, and other forms of injustice, as well as tackling the country's most serious environmental challenges. Reflecting these goals, during his confirmation hearing, Vilsack pledged to address "discrimination in all its forms across USDA agencies," and "to root …

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