Senate Democrats introduce environmental justice bill

Senate Democrats introduce environmental justice bill
© Greg Nash

A group of Democratic senators on Thursday introduced companion legislation to the House's "Environmental Justice for All" bill aimed at addressing environmental inequalities faced by low-income and nonwhite communities. 

The legislation, unveiled by Democratic Sens. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - CDC equates Delta to chickenpox in contagiousness Harris's bad polls trigger Democratic worries Why in the world are White House reporters being told to mask up again? MORE (Calif.), Cory BookerCory BookerWomen urge tech giants to innovate on office return Human rights can't be a sacrificial lamb for climate action Senate Democrats press administration on human rights abuses in Philippines MORE (N.J.) and Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthOvernight Defense: Senators reach billion deal on emergency Capitol security bill | House panel looks to help military sexual assault survivors | US increases airstrikes to help Afghan forces fight Taliban Democrats pushing for changes to bipartisan infrastructure deal 10 books that take readers inside the lives of American leaders MORE (Ill.), would require the government to consider the cumulative effects of certain permitting decisions, meaning they would have to consider how a new permit would interact with existing sources of nearby pollution. 

It would also prohibit discrimination based on disparate impacts, reinforce parts of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) that require community input, and support workers whose communities are transitioning away from fossil fuel-dependent economies.

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“Confronting generations of systemic racism to achieve true justice will require us to recognize the role environmental racism has played and redress that by investing in long-term, sustainable environmental justice solutions to center and empower communities that have for far too long been excluded,” Harris said in a statement. 

The House version of the bill was introduced in February. The companion bill’s introduction was first reported by Grist. 

Studies have indicated that low-income and nonwhite communities face greater dangers from pollution. 

The coronavirus pandemic, which causes and exacerbates respiratory issues, has brought renewed focus to this inequality, which advocates have long fought to counter.

The bill faces an uphill battle in the Republican-led Senate and is not likely to get administration support, given the White House’s recent rewrite of NEPA, a bedrock environmental law. 

The White House changes, finalized this month, get rid of the government’s responsibility to consider cumulative impacts and complicates the protocols for weighing concerns from nearby communities.