The act builds on decades of local efforts to address the underlying racist tenets of how communities are exposed to pollution.
This article was originally published by Capital B News, a Black-led, nonprofit news organization reporting for Black communities across the country.
Almost two years to the day of its last introduction, progressive leaders are reinvigorating a push to pass the Environmental Justice For All Act, a potential landmark bill that aims to address environmental disparities in majority Black, Latino and Indigenous communities.
Sponsored by U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) the proposal hopes to address public health inequities that have been exacerbated, and in some situations created, by a disproportionate burden of environmental pollutants. It will be dubbed the A. Donald McEachin Environmental Justice for All Act—honoring its co-author, a Virginia representative who died unexpectedly last year, according to Axios.
Congressional leaders hope the third time’s the charm, as the act was introduced in 2020, just two weeks before the coronavirus was declared a pandemic, and in 2021 before stalling out both times. Steam behind passing the bill was weakened as attention shifted toward passing President Joe Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act, both of which included elements of environmental justice policies.
The Environmental Justice For All Act builds on decades of community organizing around environmental justice, or the practice of addressing the underlying racist tenets of how poor, marginalized communities are exposed to excess harms from pollution, hazardous waste, and resource extraction. It acknowledges how federal and state policies, including segregation, discriminatory loan practices, and racist zoning practices, make Black and other communities of color most vulnerable to the life-threatening effects of pollution and climate change.
Environmental justice leaders across the country will attend the re-introduction announcement, including “Cancer Alley” resident Jo Banner, who works to preserve generational Black communities in Louisiana against the expansion of the petrochemical industry.
Cancer Alley, an 85-mile stretch between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, is home to more than 200 petrochemical plants, most of which are concentrated in poor, rural Black communities.
“The cancer rates [across Cancer Alley] are constantly going up. We have a major problem,” said Banner at the headquarters of her organization, The Descendants Project, in Wallace, La. “These Black communities existed long before these industries came in and began poisoning the land and our people.”
Banner is a member of a community of environmental justice groups across the South that continue to advocate for a shift away from fossil fuel production.
On Tuesday, another community in Cancer Alley filed a landmark lawsuit against their county government, alleging the county exhibited “a pattern of racist zoning practices” that packed toxic chemical plants into Black communities.
The residents of St. James Parish, which is 50 percent Black and home to a dozen plants that emit 1.4 million pounds of pollution annually, are calling for a moratorium on any further petrochemical plants in the parish. As the plastics industry continues to expand, more than half a dozen chemical plants have been planned for construction in the parish in recent years. Residents say the racist practice “represents the continuing vestiges of slavery.”
Older iterations of the Environmental Justice for All Act included provisions to build relationships with groups like Banner’s to seek legal remedies against these discriminatory practices and include millions of dollars annually to reduce health disparities through new taxes and fees on oil, gas, and coal companies.
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