Sustainability Climate Change

Harris, Ocasio-Cortez introduce environmental justice bill

senator kamala harris alexandria ocasio-cortez climate equity act 2020 bill legislation equity score accountable congress oversight federal joint climate change environment Black brown communities native americans poor frontline
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Story at a glance

  • Democratic lawmakers Sen. Kamala Harris (Calif.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) introduced legislation aiming to protect vulnerable communities from harmful climate change policies.
  • The areas primarily hurt by climate change are usually home to lower income communities of color.

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), a potential Democratic vice presidential pick, joined Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) on Thursday to introduce legislation seeking to increase the federal government’s support for marginalized communities that stand to be affected by climate change.

The bill, currently titled the Climate Equity Act of 2020, would center on establishing several oversight bodies to evaluate the climate effects any future bills may have on frontline communities. It builds upon a previous proposal introduced in 2019.

These frontline communities are usually composed of underrepresented, poor populations or communities of color, and they are normally the first to feel the negative effects of climate change and other environmental woes, such as air pollution or increasing temperatures

Ocasio-Cortez and Harris’s bill would aim to give representatives of these communities a voice on climate change issues and environmental public policy, along with deeper analyses of how these communities will be affected by such proposed legislation.

It would also create an “equity score” calculated with quantitative and qualitative analyses to grade a bill’s influence on the frontline community. 

“The Democratic Party is now finally starting to embrace what many activists have long advocated: climate policy must be driven by and centered around frontline communities,” Ocasio-Cortez said in a statement. “Major environmental policies must be written by the black, brown, and low-income people who have been and will be disproportionately impacted by it, just like the Green New Deal envisioned. For too long, policies that affect communities of color have been determined by a few white men in a room in Washington.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored racial inequities in the U.S., with Black Americans facing more severe infections than their white counterparts and Latino Americans also disproportionally affected.

A recent study also suggested that people who live in areas with higher levels of air pollution are more likely to die from the virus, with those areas often home to minority communities.

“COVID-19 has laid bare the realities of systemic racial, health, economic, and environmental injustices that persist in our country,” Harris said. “The environment we live in cannot be disentangled from the rest of our lives, and it is more important than ever that we work toward a more just and equitable future. That is why, as we combat the climate crisis and build a clean economy; we must put justice and equity first.”

Harris’s push for the legislation comes as she remains a top contender to be former Vice President Joe Biden’s running mate, with an an announcement about his VP selection expected within days.

A number of climate advocates and social justice groups have voiced their support for the bill.

Lauren Maunus, the legislative manager at the Sunrise Movement, a nonprofit focused on fighting climate change, applauded the effort.

“Young people, poor people, and Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities have always borne the brunt of toxic pollution and climate collapse,” Maunus said in the press release. “These communities closest to the pain of the interlocking crises must also be closest to developing the solutions.”

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