Urge Congress to Support Environmental Justice for All

Introduction

For decades, environmental justice leaders have advocated for equal protection from environmental hazards, equal access to environmental benefits, and meaningful involvement in environmental decision-making processes. The Environmental Justice for All Act (S.872/H.R. 2021) would take landmark steps to realize that vision.

The Environmental Justice for All Act reflects one of the environmental justice movement’s core principles: all communities should have a say in the decisions that affect them directly. The bill is the product of an inclusive, community-driven process and would create new legal tools to challenge environmental racism, integrate environmental justice into Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act permitting decisions, strengthen environmental justice considerations throughout the whole of the executive branch, and invest in historically fossil fuel-dependent communities.

Urge your members of Congress to cosponsor the Environmental Justice for All Act (S.872/H.R. 2021).

Background 

Due to systemic racism, People of Color are disproportionately exposed to environmental hazards and lack equal access to environmental benefits. For example, Black Americans breathe air that is 38 percent more polluted than the air white people breathe, and Black children are five times likelier to be hospitalized for asthma than white children. Segregation, racist zoning practices, and political disenfranchisement all contribute to the higher concentration of hazardous waste sites, highways, and polluting industries in Communities of Color and low-income communities. These communities are also less likely to have access to green spaces and other environmental benefits.

Too often, overburdened communities have limited recourse to prevent the placement of environmentally hazardous projects in their neighborhoods. The Environmental Justice for All Act, reintroduced by Representative Raul M. Grijalva (D-AZ-03) and Representative A. Donald McEachin (D-VA-04) in the House and by Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) in the Senate, would provide new mechanisms to challenge environmental racism and limit environmental harms in Communities of Color. The bill would strengthen existing civil rights law by enabling individuals to sue if they are harmed by a facially neutral policy—such as a zoning law or permitting decision—with a discriminatory impact on a protected class. The bill also amends the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act to require consideration of the cumulative impacts of pollution and potential adverse health effects on vulnerable groups.

The Environmental Justice for All Act would also integrate environmental justice priorities throughout federal agency activities and strengthen opportunities for meaningful community participation in environmental decision-making under the National Environmental Policy Act, including Tribal participation. The bill would establish grant programs to facilitate access to outdoor recreational opportunities via public transit, support community-based participatory research, and train communities affected by environmental injustices to avail themselves of civil rights protections. Finally, the bill includes provisions to invest in historically fossil fuel-dependent communities and facilitate a just transition to a clean energy economy.

Jewish Values

Jewish teachings emphasize our responsibility to protect Creation and ensure a livable planet for future generations. In the Garden of Eden, God instructs Adam and Eve: “Take care not to spoil or destroy My world, for if you do, there will be no one to repair it after you” (Midrash Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:13).

In addition, the Torah commands us, “Tzedek, tzedek tirdof" meaning “Justice, justice you shall pursue” (Deuteronomy 16:20). Our sages explain that the word tzedek is repeated not only for emphasis, but to teach us that we must be just in the act of pursuing justice. The meaningful inclusion of all people in the decisions affecting the air they breathe, the water they drink, and the health of their neighborhoods reflects Judaism’s commitment to integrating justice throughout the process of seeking a just outcome.

For More Information

You can email your elected officials through our form, or call the Capitol Switchboard at 202.224.3121 and ask to speak directly with their offices. For more information on this issue, visit the RAC’s issue page on the environment and climate change or contact Eisendrath Legislative Assistant Courtney Cooperman at 202-387-2800.

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