Historic Environmental Justice For All Act Passes Committee, One Step Closer to Becoming Law
Washington, D.C. – Today, in a full committee markup, the House Natural Resources Committee passed H.R. 2021, the Environmental Justice For All Act, by a vote of 26-21. The legislation, introduced by Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Rep. A. Donald McEachin (D-Va.) on March 18, 2021, is the most comprehensive environmental justice bill in history and the first major environmental justice bill to pass through a congressional committee.
Today’s historic markup was widely celebrated across Congress and outside groups; the Environmental Justice For All Act currently has over 100 cosponsors and is supported by over 300 organizations, ranging from grassroots environmental justice and public health groups to leading national environmental organizations. The Houston Chronicle Editorial Board also endorsed the bill today. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) leads companion legislation in the Senate.
On the bill passing through the Committee, Chair Grijalva said, “Today was a historic day—not just for Congress, but for the millions of Americans who have been demanding and fighting tirelessly for environmental justice for decades. Environmental justice communities wrote this bill, they crafted these solutions, and after today, we finally have a chance to bring their voices to the House floor and pass this bill into law. I urge my House and Senate colleagues to push for a vote on this historic legislation as soon as possible.”
In his opening remarks at today’s markup, Chair Grijalva said, “The people who decide whether these communities deserve water that is safe to drink or air that is safe to breathe don’t look or experience life like those who live in those communities. H.R. 2021 will change that. The bill moves the center of power. It will change the available leverage, and it will repurpose the megaphone when it comes to protecting marginalized communities from continuing to be the dumping ground for dangerous pollution. In this country of ours, you should not need to be wealthy… or know someone who is to be able to protect your family from toxic pollution. This legislation is preventive and protective.”
Chair Grijalva’s full opening remarks are available here.
In his remarks, Rep. McEachin pushed back against Republican claims, saying, “It’s interesting to me the way the other side engages in their condescending attacks on this bill as if we drafted it—you and I, Mr. Chairman—as if we drafted this bill. Nothing could be further from the truth. As you know, we took our time. We went all over this country to all sorts of EJ communities. They have different problems, different issues, but what they had in common was a desire for the types of things that are in this legislation. They wrote this legislation. For the Ranking Member and the other side of the aisle to suggest that they don’t know what is best for themselves is part of the problem.”
Rep. McEachin’s full remarks are available here.
The Environmental Justice For All Act was drafted through a years-long inclusive, transparent, and community-led process based on public input. Over the past several months, Chair Grijalva, Rep. McEachin, and other members of Congress embarked on a Community Input Tour of several environmental justice communities—New York City, Detroit, Tucson, “Cancer Alley,” Louisiana, Southern California, Richmond, Virginia, and Indian Country—to see firsthand the ongoing environmental injustices in these areas and to hear about community leaders’ efforts to address those injustices. At each stop, the lawmakers also facilitated a public input forum to obtain formal feedback on the Environmental Justice For All Act. Community members could also submit their feedback online via the Committee’s innovative use of a virtual input tool called Popvox.
Background on the Environmental Justice For All Act
The Environmental Justice For All Act is rooted in the moral principle that all people have the right to pure air, clean water, and an environment that enriches life. Across the country, environmental justice communities—including communities of color, Tribal and Indigenous communities, and low-income communities—have been disproportionately burdened by environmental hazards that harm human health, including greater exposure to polluted air, water, and landscapes. These same communities are often on the frontlines of climate change as well.
Many of these inequities stem from the fossil fuel and other polluting industries’ long history of intentionally building infrastructure, including oil wells, pipelines, refineries, and power plants, in environmental justice communities.
Among other important provisions, the Environmental Justice For All Act will:
- Require consideration of cumulative impacts of pollution. Federal agencies will need to consider the cumulative impacts of pollution in a given area when making permitting decisions under the Clean Water Act or Clean Air Act. No permit will be issued if the project cannot demonstrate a reasonable certainty of no harm to human health after consideration of cumulative impacts.
- Amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Supreme Court decision in Alexander v. Sandoval will be overturned so that private citizens, residents, and organizations may legally challenge discrimination—including environmental discrimination—prohibited under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
- Strengthen the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Federal agencies will be required to provide early and meaningful community input opportunities under NEPA when proposing an action affecting an environmental justice community. Agencies will also be required to ensure robust tribal representation throughout the NEPA process for an activity that could impact a tribe, including activities impacting off-reservation lands and sacred sites.
Media Contact: Lindsay Gressard
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