Lower wealth frontline communities have borne the brunt of pollution in this nation. Without proper attention and resources, we expect climate change will continue to decimate these already overburdened communities.
Congress should strengthen landmark legislation and increase investments into frontline communities that have experienced systemic socio-economic disparities, environmental racism, and other forms of injustice. Congress and the Administration have the opportunity to address historically racialized and discriminatory practices and policies that have produced the environmental injustices frontline communities face today to ensure shared and sustainable wins for people and wildlife.
Congress should pass the Environmental Justice for All Act, which includes a series of policies that have been co-developed through frontline community engagement. These policies include provisions to strengthen legislation including the National Environmental Policy Act to ensure meaningful community involvement and civic participation in federal permitting and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to permit private citizens, residents, and organizations to seek legal remedy when faced with discrimination.
The bill also requires consideration of cumulative impacts, the accumulation of pollution from many different sources over time, a prominent issue that has resulted in continued air and water pollution among frontline communities in permitting decisions under the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act. The bill also authorizes $75 million annually for grants to support research, education, outreach, development, and implementation of projects to address environmental and public health issues in frontline communities.
To provide resources that will strengthen the ability for frontline communities to move from surviving to thriving, Congress should pass the Environmental Justice Legacy Pollution Cleanup Act to allow for necessary investments in providing supplemental appropriations for the cleanup of legacy pollution to states and Indigenous Tribes, including National Priority List sites in the Superfund program, abandoned coal mining sites, and formerly used defense sites. These investments would support a number of needed upgrades, including the replacement of lead drinking water service lines through forgivable loans to ensure water affordability, increased funding for the Diesel Emissions Reduction Assistance Program to reduce air pollution in transportation corridors, brownfield remediation, and several other existing programs that address pollution and affordability.
In addition to strengthening protections, addressing legacy pollution, and guiding impactful investments, Congress and the Administration must address climate justice. Similar to environmental justice, climate justice recognizes the adverse and inequitable impacts of a warming climate among people.
The National Wildlife Federation believes environmental and climate justice-related legislation is essential and urges Congress to pass the Climate Equity Act. As we tackle the climate crisis through policies and legislation, Congress must ensure affected communities have a seat at the policymaking table. This bill provides several provisions to hold Congress and the executive branch accountable to the adverse impacts of environmental and climate-related legislation on frontline communities through the use of equity scores and additional review processes to inform regulations and guide federal grantmaking and investment programs. The bill would establish an independent Office of Climate and Environmental Justice Accountability to work with frontline communities on rulemaking and to monitor government compliance through cross-agency collaboration.
To aid accountability, the National Wildlife Federation is working with several frontline leaders to create and implement Environmental Justice Screening and Mapping tools, which combine data and mapping to allow users to visualize patterns of environmental and climate hazards in order to inform policies and decision-making. Combined with ground-breaking legislation, such as the Environmental Justice Mapping and Data Collection Act of 2021, Congress can ensure that existing policies and targeted investments address frontline community needs.
Photo credits: Marcus Johnstone (environmental justice march), Felton Davis (youth climate activists), BLM (Superfund site), Curran Kelleher (smokestacks), Jay Peeples (LA smog)
More than one-third of U.S. fish and wildlife species are at risk of extinction in the coming decades. The National Wildlife Federation is on the ground in seven regions across the country, collaborating with 53 state and territory affiliates to reverse the crisis and ensure wildlife thrive.