National Wildlife Federation, Partners Issue New Policy Recommendations to Address COVID-19 Crisis, Environmental Justice, Equity

Recommendations Gathered During Community Discussions, Roundtables Hosted Throughout 2020

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Policymakers must focus on solutions that address the historic and persistent injustices facing Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and Asian communities and prioritize environmental justice, according to a new series of policy recommendations from the National Wildlife Federation and partner organizations.

The recommendations, based on six roundtables the National Wildlife Federation and partner organizations organized and hosted in 2020, include solutions to address water security, infrastructure, health inequities, land use, climate change, housing, civic engagement, education, food systems, and gun violence. The policy recommendations reflect the ideas of more than 120 frontline community leaders, elected officials, and experts across the nation to address the most urgent issues affecting frontline or fenceline communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The COVID-19 crisis has had a disproportionate impact on frontline communities and communities of color, who despite seeing their health, economic and environmental challenges exacerbated by the pandemic, are still not being included in the conversation,” said Mustafa Santiago Ali, vice president of environmental justice, climate and community revitalization for the National Wildlife Federation. “Our new policy recommendations highlight these often-marginalized voices, understanding that if we want to craft long-term, effective solutions, frontline leaders need to have a seat at the table when discussing and designing the policies that impact their communities.”

“Discriminatory practices that intentionally marginalize communities of color and lower wealth communities are deeply embedded in our institutions and systems, and there is a need for new, thoughtful and holistic approaches,” said Simone Lightfoot, national director of urban initiatives and environmental justice for the National Wildlife Federation. “These policy recommendations understand the urgent need to advance both racial and environmental justice, if we want to ensure communities are able to withstand public health and climate change crises.”

“If our most under-resourced people’s needs aren’t met first, then how can we legitimately show up for environmental conservation,” said Nizhooni Hurd, tribal partnerships program coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation. “Especially when environmental conservation organizations are waking up to environmental injustices of Indigenous nations, it becomes important that we address environmental injustices head on. We need to do that by listening, learning and doing our best to meet the needs of Native Peoples from the get go.”

“Frontline communities are underrepresented in the decision-making processes that impact our air, water, land, and health, and overrepresented when it comes to impacts from environmental harms,” said Camilla Simon, executive director of Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO). “To change this, we must start by listening to and implementing policy recommendations like these, which address and prioritize community experiences.”

The National Wildlife Federation partnered with a series of national partners to host the community roundtables, including the American Public Health Association, Amnesty International, Blue Green Alliance, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, National Children’s Campaign, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, National Environmental Justice Journal, and the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“The Coronavirus pandemic has hit communities of color disproportionately hard,” said Jacqui Patterson, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s environment and climate justice program director. “African Americans are infected with COVID-19 at nearly three times the rate of white Americans, and are twice as likely to die from the virus. The national response to this ongoing outbreak must be informed by and proactively address existing racial disparities in terms of health inequalities, food systems, and climate change. This is what we are offering in our policy recommendations. Otherwise, new policy approaches risk exacerbating current inequalities and undermining efforts to block the spread and impact of the virus.”

"The environmental justice movement is one that recognizes that we are all connected, and the global threats of climate change and a widespread pandemic affect us all at the local and individual levels. Coexisting crises exacerbated by environmental challenges, systemic racism, economic and wealth gaps, and a lack of access to basic human needs further underscores the health disparities of many across our nation. The COVID-19 Environmental Justice Roundtable Series offered an opportunity to hear from communities to shed light on the daily challenges, giving rise to opportunities for change," said Surili Patel, director of the American Public Health Association's Center for Climate, Health, and Equity.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that many Black, Brown, and Indigenous peoples were already in the midst of a syndemic, multiple pandemics including white supremacy and racism, toxic capitalism, climate change, and environmental injustice. In many ways, the COVID-19 pandemic revealed the magnitude of structured violence and environmental oppression in so many frontline and fenceline communities,” said Dr. Sacoby Wilson, director of community engagement, environmental justice, and health for the Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health. “This roundtable series was important because we heard from leading voices working to dismantle structural racism, combat structured violence, heal communities who have experienced decades of trauma. There are a number of important recommendations to highlight but I believe we need deep, transformative investments following a salutogenic framework to address the ills that have been exacerbated by this viral pandemic. We need to invest in both people and places so we make right the wrongs that these communities have faced … so that environmental, social, economic, and racial justice are no longer delayed.”

“Long before Mr. Eric Garner or Mr. George Floyd, or more than 70 other murdered individuals screamed that they could not breathe, communities had been loudly, emphatically and unequivocally stating that they could not breathe due to where they lived and the contaminants to which they are exposed daily. Their voices were largely ignored,” said Dr. Adrienne Hollis, senior climate justice and health scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “In the United States, systemic racism against Black and brown people affects every aspect of our lives, from education to employment, from housing to healthcare, from the food we eat to the air we breathe. These policy recommendations are incredibly important and impactful. They will allow those often marginalized and other voices an opportunity to be heard and will hopefully lead to needed action.”

“Climate change is not just an environmental issue. It is a racial, health & economic justice issue. We will not be able to build a sustainable future unless we prioritize intersectional policies that center the health, economic well-being, and lived experiences of black people, other people of color, and underserved communities, who are disproportionately impacted by the negative impacts of pollution and climate change,” said Melanie L. Campbell, president and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and Convener.

“COVID 19 has execrated many of the existing issues in Black and brown communities across this country. A light has been shined on the environmental, health, food disparities and gun violence issues many people are facing daily,” said Ernest Coverson, end gun violence manager for Amnesty International USA. “As a human rights organization we will continue to work with partners fighting for remedies to these ongoing challenges.”

“Workers bore the brunt of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic — particularly workers of color. Learning from the mistakes by looking back at how we handled this pandemic is vital to preparing for the next disaster and tackling economic and racial injustice,” said Jason Walsh, executive director of BlueGreen Alliance. “This report provides a roadmap to help us build a clean, thriving, and equitable economy for all in the face of crises.”

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