We need just recovery for the coronavirus and climate crises

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With the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic growing, Congress is considering additional stimulus and relief to provide stability for the long process of recovery. As lifelong advocates for climate and environmental justice, we are clear that a livable future means advocating for health and safety and addressing the reality of our warming planet. 

While the next stimulus must continue to prioritize the immediate needs of those affected by the pandemic — healthcare, proper equipment and protective gear for hospitals, direct payments, support for small businesses, rent and mortgage freezes and support for communities regardless of immigration status — it must also include provisions to stop ongoing harm and protect communities from the climate crisis at large. 

We cannot allow for panic from a legitimate pandemic to coverup the loosening of regulations on emissions or to allow fossil fuel corporations to fast track dirty projects, as the Trump administration is already doing.

If anything, this pandemic has shown what happens when world leaders ignore reality, deny science and neglect the opportunity to act in their authority to curb a burgeoning global disaster before it is full blown. 

Now is the time to double-down on tackling climate change and Congress can take immediate action on this front. Our public officials could start by banning the use of stimulus funds for fossil fuel expansion, prohibiting construction of non-critical projects like pipelines and investing in renewable energy jobs that serve low-income communities, Indian reservations and communities of color in a long-term just recovery. 

Legislators have the opportunity to pass laws that provide relief in the face of the coronavirus pandemic and kickstart bold climate action to protect Mother Earth. The ReWind Act, recently introduced by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-Calif.) would help prevent the Trump administration from bailing out oil corporations and is an example of a step in the right direction. What we need is a long-term, climate-resilient recovery plan that charts a path forward to a livable world for all.

Those of us on the frontlines of the climate crisis are facing the worst impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. We have also been living our lives in and around oil drilling and production, coal mining and related transit pollution for generations, while enduring climate impacts without adequate resources to recover. Addressing both means dealing with the realities of systemic and economic injustice. 

As black and Indigenous co-authors respectively, we’ve seen how hard hit our own communities and families have been by COVID-19. Our communities are experiencing disproportionate health disparities from pollution and environmental racism and decades of under-resourcing have exposed our communities to COVID-19 at alarming rates. According to available data, African Americans account for one-third of all U.S. COVID-19 fatalities. In New York City, data shared by the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene suggests that low-income neighborhoods have been the hit hardest by COVID-19. In Washington, D.C., coronavirus is disproportionately hurting black residents.  

The Indian Health Service and Indian Health Boards that provide health care to tribal communities are historically under-resourced and ill-equipped to respond. The Navajo Nation has reported more COVID-19 cases per capita than any U.S. state and the situation is getting worse. Native communities living along the path of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline face greater risk from the influx of thousands of out-of-state workers coming to build the project amidst the pandemic. 

Trump has leveraged the coronavirus pandemic to roll back Obama-era EPA standards aimed at curbing automobile emissions and reducing enforcement of pollution regulations, ushering in a new era of environmental inequity. Meanwhile, under Trump’s auspices, Kentucky, South Dakota and West Virginia have passed anti-protest laws to suppress dissent and kick-off new oil and gas projects. 

Canada’s Alberta government, operating from the same playbook as the Trump Administration, greenlighted construction on the Keystone XL pipeline through a $1.1 billion investment. Construction is now happening in Montana near the U.S.-Canada border, a move that would bring thousands of out-of-state workers into rural and tribal communities in the middle of a global health crisis. To top it off, oil prices have fallen below zero, showing how fossil fuels are too volatile to be the basis of a resilient economy; however, the Trump administration is busy pushing for bailouts and loans to sustain an industry that only further digs us deeper into climate chaos. 

These are not decisions geared toward the health and safety of the people — they are meant to protect the wealth and profits of the few. Whole communities will be further harmed by handouts for oil and gas executives. The People’s Bailout, which our respective organizations have endorsed, lays out the case to stop the industries most responsible for the climate crisis from sending us further down the path of catastrophic climate impacts. We can’t let this happen. Now is the time for members of Congress to stand up to fossil fuel corporations and make sure the government works for people, recognizes tribal sovereignty and protects the planet.

We demand government investment in the resilience that our communities have shown all through history. This includes interventions that transform our health care system, direct payments with no strings attached and assistance regardless of immigration status, support for small businesses and tribal governments and freeze rents and mortgages for all.  

Relief funds should not be converted to corporate welfare for Big Oil. Fossil fuel projects like Keystone XL and Line 3 must be halted and the rights of tribal governments on infrastructure impacting their land and water must be  honored. This moment is our last and best chance to set up a resilient future by investing in good, green jobs in renewable energy. Our elected officials have a duty to focus on community-centered solutions in a just recovery that puts people and the planet first. What Congress invests in now will determine how we will recover and when. No one should be left behind. 

Tamara Toles O’Laughlin is the North America director for the global climate campaign 350.orgJudith LeBlanc is a member of the Caddo Tribe of Oklahoma and director of the Native Organizers Alliance (NOA), a national Native training and organizing network 

Tags Climate change Coronavirus COVID-19 emissions emissions standards Environment Global warming health disparity inequity Jeff Merkley Pandemic tribal health
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