We can build the economy while addressing the climate crisis and environmental injustice
On Jan. 20 President Biden entered the White House tasked with the mandate of uniting our country. Meeting the moment our nation finds itself facing will not be easy. But President Biden has an opportunity to rally Americans around his ambitious platform by placing our response to the climate crisis at the forefront of his economic recovery plan. We can build a just and clean economy that creates high-road, living wage, union jobs while tackling the climate crisis and addressing our legacy of environmental injustice.
This is a winning strategy. Americans — including a majority of Republicans — overwhelmingly support transitioning to a 100 percent clean energy economy by 2050. Many of them also support providing a federal economic stimulus that prioritizes investments in clean energy infrastructure.
A key way President Biden can begin to deliver on this vision is by ensuring that environmental justice communities receive robust assistance in forthcoming COVID-19 relief legislation. As we wrote in a letter with several of our colleagues, the decades-old legacy of racism and environmental inequity has made environmental justice communities especially vulnerable to COVID-19. In the near term, an economic relief bill that includes investments in water and energy bill assistance, clean water, clean energy, health care, and community revitalization is the most imminent legislative vehicle for getting these communities the help they need. Delivering this relief is a much-needed step towards justice, and will be especially important at a time when we are asking more and more of Americans every day.
Beyond COVID relief, there are many other ways President Biden can enact change on the federal level to achieve his climate goals. As co-founders and co-chairs of the House United for Climate and Environmental Justice Task Force, we know firsthand that building support for a comprehensive approach to climate policy and a just transition away from fossil fuels is possible. The House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis report released last year — which is the first-ever Congressional plan that lays the groundwork for achieving net-zero carbon pollution by 2050 — featured many of the same bold ideas championed in President Biden’s climate plan, including the Environmental Justice for All Act we co-sponsored in the 116th Congress. Under the Biden-Harris administration and a united Congress, progress will finally be possible on this important piece of legislation.
The path forward will not be easy, but the crisis we face offers no choice but to be bold. With razor-thin majorities in both chambers, we must continue to fight for strong policy that truly builds back better by centering justice in order to ensure that we leave no community behind. It is likely that some of President Biden’s climate agenda will still need to be accomplished through executive action and rulemaking — further underscoring the importance of confirming strong climate and environmental justice changemakers to serve in key positions at all levels of the administration.
It is difficult to measure the damage caused by the Trump administration’s inaction on climate change. Not only did they fail to hold corporate polluters accountable throughout their four years in office, they actively pursued a dangerous deregulatory agenda by rolling back over 100 public health and environmental safeguards. They even went so far as to pause Environmental Protection Agency enforcement during the COVID-19 pandemic, putting the same low-income, Tribal and indigenous, and communities of color that continue to be disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 at greater risk. Time is running out and millions of lives are on the line. We have already lost so much; swift action must be our top priority.
McEachin, Barragan and Jayapal are co-chairs of the United for Climate and Environmental Justice Task Force.
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