Sen. Duckworth Introduces Bill Addressing Environmental Racism

Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) talks to reporters during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol on November 17, 2020 in Washington, DC.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) talks to reporters during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol on November 17, 2020 in Washington, DC.
Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images (Getty Images)

U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) introduced a bill Thursday that aims to provide health equity and climate justice for underserved communities and communities of color that have historically been impacted by environmental injustices.

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The Environmental Justice for All Act acknowledges that communities of color face public health challenges that make them much more susceptible to illnesses as a result of inequities. It also strengthens and amends the Civil Rights Act of 1964, funds studies that track harmful products marketed towards women and girls of color and establishes a Federal Energy Transition Economic Development Assistance Fund to support communities and workers transitioning away from fossil fuel-dependent industries.

Study after study shows that Black people and other people of color are disproportionately impacted by health issues caused by their environments, especially asthma. The Flint water crisis especially motivated Duckworth to come up with legislation to address environmental justice, she told The Root in an interview.

During a hearing on the crisis, while she was in the House, she noticed a woman was holding up a baby bottle and the water in it was brown. What gave away that it was a baby bottle was the pink top. “It looked just like the bottle that I used to feed my own daughter,” Duckworth said. “I remember thinking, ‘Oh my God. What if I found out that I’d been drinking through my entire pregnancy water contaminated with lead the way it is in Flint.’

“That’s my whole point of this bill, to make sure these communities will be at the table and be part of these commissions, that they will be part of the study,” Duckworth said. “What I’m requiring is that the government develop a government plight strategy, but then they come into the local communities and have them be part of the process of developing government-wide strategies for how to make sure that we enforce environmental justice executive order.”

Here are more areas of environmental justice the bill will address:

  • Requires the Consideration of Cumulative Impacts: Explicitly adds cumulative impacts in permitting decisions under the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act.
  • Codifies the Clinton Administration’s Environmental Justice Executive Order: Creates a working group to ensure compliance and enforcement and develop government-wide strategies.
  • Reinforces the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA): Requires early and meaningful involvement in actions impacting communities, including Tribes.
  • Provides Outdoor Access for All: Establishes programs to ensure more equitable access to parks and the outdoors.
  • Establishes Environmental Justice Grant Programs: Funds grants for research, education, and projects to address environmental and public health issues.
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Co-sponsors of the bill are U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Alex Padilla (D-Calif.).

The Environmental Justice for All Act was also introduced in the House.

Duckworth’s aim is to ensure that energy companies and other enterprises can no longer make communities of color their dump sites or contribute to climate change without penalties. She also is confident that big business will support the legislation so long as they know they can make money producing energy that doesn’t harm the environment. This bill would also compliment the aims of the Green New Deal, the senator said.

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“It is unfair that the wealthiest in our society have the greatest access to the cleanest energy,” she said. “Whereas the communities of color, where we’ve been dumping our toxic chemicals and our toxic industries for years, where people have higher rates of childhood asthma, don’t have access to it. So whatever we can do to move forward in terms of talking about the Green New Deal or whatever green initiative goes forward, I want to make sure that the tribal people and Black and Brown communities have a seat at the table with whatever package deal gets moved forward and we don’t leave communities behind.”

Terrell Jermaine Starr is a senior reporter at The Root. He is currently writing a book proposal that analyzes US-Russia relations from a black perspective.

DISCUSSION

Makes Me Wonder Why I Even Bring The Thunder

It’s https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/senate-bill/872 and https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-bill/2021, for ease in tracking or contacting your legislators.