Committee Democrats Examine Republican Record on NEPA as Hispanic Heritage Month Raises Environmental Justice Profile

Washington, D.C. – In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, which continues until Oct. 15, the Natural Resources Committee’s Democratic staff on Tuesday published a look back at Republicans’ attacks on the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), one of our country’s strongest environmental justice laws. The multimedia piece, “Harming Communities of Color” is part of the Democrats’ ongoing “Wasted Resources” series looking back at the misguided hearings and misplaced priorities of the Committee’s Republican majority throughout the 115th Congress.

As the piece notes, NEPA gives communities of color a rare opportunity to weigh in on the kinds of federal policy decisions that historically ignored their input. The connection between environmental quality and larger issues of social justice have long been understood by civil rights leaders like Cesar Chavez, who regularly included environmental protection messages in his social justice advocacy work.

NEPA continues to be a vital tool for Latinos around the country, the piece notes, in part because of the disparate environmental and public health risks they face:

Nearly 40 percent of Latinos live within 30 miles of a power plant, and Hispanics are 165 percent more likely to live in counties with unhealthy levels of power plant pollution than non-Latino whites. This means Hispanics — especially children and the elderly — risk greater exposure to increased extreme heat and weather, smog and air pollution, and even greater transmission of mosquito and tick-related diseases. They’re also more likely to suffer from asthma attacks, need sick leave from school or work, and pay higher food prices. The environmental and public health decisions the federal government makes often have a disproportionate impact on Latinos, and NEPA is one of the few tools they can use to voice their preferences before those decisions are finalized.

The piece notes successes at sites like the proposed garbage-based power plant in the already heavily polluted community of Arecibo, Puerto Rico, which local leaders successfully blocked thanks to NEPA’s strong public notice and comment requirements.

Each installment in the “Wasted Resources” series focuses on a particular hearing called by the Republican majority at some point during the 115th Congress. Tuesday’s piece centers on an April 25, 2018, hearing in the full Committee:

Republicans on the Committee spent the hearing calling NEPA a weapon used by environmentalists to destroy our country. If you don’t believe us, here’s Rep. McClintock wondering whether there’s been a study of the “environmental damage done by NEPA.” The gist of the argument, such as it is, is that the law is delaying construction projects, logging projects, oil and gas projects and all kinds of other federally permitted projects, and we should rewrite the law so industry can just do whatever it wants already.

If you’ve been following Wasted Resources, it should come as no surprise that this entire argument is bogus — and Republicans know it.

The piece goes on to document and rebut each Republican challenge to the law, underscoring the environmental justice implications of weakening the law in the name of “cutting red tape.”

Wasted Resources publishes each Tuesday and Thursday. Each entry in the series is catalogued in the introductory post, which you can read at http://bit.ly/2RkVmwx

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