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Rep. McEachin and Chair Grijalva Launch Historic Effort to Draft Environmental Justice Bill Based on Public Feedback at Environmental Justice Convening

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From Rep. Donald McEachin’s office:

Rep. McEachin and Chair Grijalva Launch Historic Effort to Draft Environmental Justice Bill Based on Public Feedback at Environmental Justice Convening

Washington, D.C. – Congressman A. Donald McEachin (VA-04) and Natural Resources Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) released the following statement after co-hosting the first-ever environmental justice convening at the U.S. Capitol. Hundreds of environmental justice (EJ) advocates, leaders, and practitioners flew in from across the country to discuss long-standing injustices and areas of collaboration between advocates and policymakers. Throughout the day, policymakers and a broad range of organizations and individuals participated in panel discussions on the history and context of the EJ movement, and current challenges and policy priorities for EJ practitioners and frontline community-based organizations. At the convening, Congressman McEachin and Chair Grijalva unveiled a set of principles to guide the development of comprehensive environmental justice legislation to be introduced later this Congress.

Community members can review the proposed principles, submit feedback and participate in the process at https://naturalresources.house.gov/environmental-justice.

“I am humbled and honored to have cohosted this historic environmental justice Congressional convening,” said Congressman A. Donald McEachin. “I am deeply appreciative of the hundreds of advocates who joined us from around the country who sacrificed their valuable time to share their passion and knowledge for environmental justice with congressional staff. True change begins with them, these are the community leaders who know the best solutions for addressing these climate injustices because they are on the front lines. Our statement of principles is built around that concept, that we need everyone to weigh in on policy solutions in order to draft the most comprehensive legislation possible.

I am extremely grateful to Chairman Grijalva for being my partner in these efforts and to the Natural Resources Committee for helping make the Convening such a success. This is a new beginning and I look forward to our continued work with each other, those who attended, and many others to draft environmental justice legislation.”

“Regardless of color, culture, origin or income, every American should enjoy equal access to a healthy environment to live, learn and work,” Chair Grijalva said. “The convening was a crucial moment to come together and lift the voices of communities impacted by oppressive and racist policies. They’re too often the only ones not at the table when those policies are made, and I’m honored to have Rep. McEachin’s steadfast partnership as we bring them into the discussion. We’re excited to have the partnership and energy of the environmental justice community in drafting our legislation to right these injustices. This week’s event is just the beginning.”

“We applaud Chairman Raul M. Grijalva, Representative A. Donald McEachin and the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee for organizing an immersive environmental and climate justice experience for Congressional staff,” said Cecil Corbin-Mark, Deputy Director and Director of Policy Initiatives at WE ACT for Environmental Justice. “Hopefully the EJ Convening equipped those responsible for policy development with the grounding necessary to ensure an equity lens is applied to creating legislation that will address the pressing environmental issues threatening frontline communities.”

The archived livestream of the morning session can be viewed at http://bit.ly/2FrZWVu and the afternoon session can be viewed at http://bit.ly/2Xg9rC9.

Photos from the convening can be viewed at https://flic.kr/s/aHsmEyxJrG.

Chair Grijalva, Rep. McEachin and the Natural Resources Committee invite you to share your input on the following:

Statement of Principles for Environmental Justice Legislation

All people have the right to pure air, clean water, and all the richness and wonder nature can provide. For too many, those rights are still unrealized, and the injustice of that reality takes a daily toll. Across our nation, our air and water are being polluted with impunity, at great consequence to our health and environment. And too often, our government has turned a blind eye—more so in some communities than in others. To help address these long-standing wrongs and promote justice, Congress must advance bold environmental justice legislation.

At a minimum, this legislation must:

  • Strengthen the Civil Rights Act to ensure that citizens can enforce their rights against environmental discrimination. Low-income communities, communities of color, indigenous communities, and other vulnerable populations are disproportionately burdened by environmental hazards in the United States. Too often, landfills, waste sites, and other harmful projects are placed in these communities and are operated in a manner that causes disproportionate environmental harm and risks to human health within them. This disproportionate impact discrimination is illegal under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. Unfortunately, in the Alexander v. Sandoval decision, the Supreme Court overturned decades of precedent in order to prohibit private citizens from filing suit to enforce their Title VI rights in the face of disparate impact discrimination. Environmental justice legislation must strengthen Title VI to ensure that citizens can have their day in court when faced with disparate impact discrimination.
  • Ensure that Project Decisions Fully Reflect on-the-Ground Realities and Cumulative Impacts. Currently, federal and state governments often regulate pollution at the individual project level, and as a result, permitting decisions, including under the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, do not necessarily contemplate an area’s cumulative pollution levels, resulting in dangerous environmental and health outcomes. Congress should seek to require that federal and state decision-making consider proposed projects’ impacts in the full, real-world context in which they would actually be constructed or carried out.
  • Codify and Bolster Executive Order 12898 on Environmental Justice. The 1994 Executive Order on Environmental Justice directed each federal agency to identify and address the “disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of its programs, policies, and activities on minority populations and low-income populations” to the greatest extent practicable and permitted by law. The Executive Order must be strengthened and codified into law so that the current and future administrations cannot weaken or rescind it.
  • Strengthen the National Environmental Policy Act to promote environmental justice. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires federal agencies to analyze the potential environmental consequences of major federal actions and consider public input before any major actions are taken. When used effectively, NEPA can help prevent a disproportionate share of polluting projects from being sited in vulnerable communities. The existing NEPA process should be strengthened to expand opportunities for public involvement in the federal decision-making process. Federal agencies must be required to increase public comment periods, conduct public hearings, and translate information about proposed projects into languages other than English when major polluting projects are being contemplated in these communities.
  • Direct federal agencies to develop and enact a comprehensive agency-wide environmental justice strategy. All federal agencies must be required to develop effective environmental justice strategies that identify and address any disproportionately high or adverse environmental effects of their programs and practices on low-income communities, communities of color, indigenous communities, and other vulnerable populations. Furthermore, incentives and enforcement measures must be robust in order to ensure that agencies properly manage their environmental justice responsibilities.
  • Establish a Working Group on Environmental Justice Compliance and Enforcement. An Environmental Justice Compliance and Enforcement Working Group should advise and assist federal agencies in identifying and addressing environmental justice issues, provide direct guidance and technical assistance to local communities and environmental justice organizations, and engage with state, tribal, and local governments to address pollution and public health burdens in affected communities.
  • Help environmental justice organizations build capacity through federal community grants. Robust federal community grants should be available to help environmental justice groups identify and implement projects to address environmental and public health concerns. Grants should also help provide scientific and technical assistance so that vulnerable communities have a detailed understanding of the potential environmental and public health threats they face when federal, state, and local decisions are being made about whether to permit a dangerous activity or where to site a hazardous project.  
  • Direct federal agencies to offer training in environmental justice to the federal workforce. A federal training program should ensure that agency staff are best prepared to incorporate environmental justice concepts into their work .