Find a power plant, oil refinery, or other industrial facilities and you’ll almost certainly find in its shadow a low-income community, most likely African American or Latino. The fact that some communities are more impacted than others by air pollution, water and soil contamination, and public health threats is part of what gave rise to the environmental justice movement.
Last week, under the leadership of Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), some members of the Committee on Natural Resources as well as other members from the Los Angeles area in the House of Representatives held an important event to bring together the voices of communities who are on the front lines of environmental justice in their communities. The forum also shone light on three critical policies that give communities the tools to stand up against dirty, polluting industries that put their profit over communities’ health: the National Environmental Policy Act, Executive Order 12898, and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.
The Forum on Environmental Justice was the first of a series of events focused on engaging those who are not traditionally included in discussions regarding climate change and environmental policies. Members of Congress, representatives of community-based, environmental, and business groups, as well as state, local and tribal governments came together to discuss how to strengthen environmental justice policies.
The good news is that California is making progress. At the forum, local leaders will talk about innovative efforts by the City of Los Angeles and the state of California to ensure that all communities in the state enjoy strong environmental protections. According to the American Lung Association in California and Environmental Defense Fund, there will be $8.3 billion avoided in health costs by 2025 as a result of the state’s efforts to reduce air pollution in California. When fully implemented, the transition to cleaner fuels as a result of the Low Carbon Fuel Standard, the transportation fuels component of the Cap and Trade program – a regulation designed to reduce greenhouse gases from multiple sources – will save lives and costs including 900 fewer premature deaths and 600 fewer heart attacks. The Los Angeles area—a place with few parks relative to its size and poor air quality—is also celebrating the recent creation of the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, which President Barack Obama designated in response to overwhelming local support, in particular by communities of color, for a place where kids can get outside and breathe clean air.
Latino, African American, Indigenous and other communities of color across the country have a long history of organizing for environmental protections and the health of future generations. The Forum on Environmental Justice will look at how to protect and expand some of the key policies and tools that strengthen these efforts. The National Environmental Policy Act requires public participation and transparency in projects overseen by federal agencies. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination in programs and activities that have federal funding. Executive Order 12898 directs federal agencies to make sure that their actions are no longer disproportionately impacting the environment and health of low-income neighborhoods and communities of color.
However, there is more work to be done in California and across the country. The US House Committee on Natural Resources has a unique role in ensuring responsible stewardship of our nation’s public lands, wildlife, and other treasures. It is commendable, and stands in sharp contrast to other efforts in Congress, that members of this Committee are interested in making sure that all of us, particularly communities of color, have the tools to be part of environmental protection.
We appreciate Rep. Grijalva’s continued leadership on environmental issues, and thank him and Reps. Grace Napolitano (D-CA), Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), Norma Torres (D-CA), Linda Sánchez (D-CA), Maxine Moore Waters (D-CA), and Judy Chu (D-CA) for participating in the Forum on Environmental Justice. As California confronts a severe drought and communities across the country contend with the impact of climate change, it is more important than ever that we work together and work swiftly to ensure that we can breath freely, drink clean water and have uncontaminated lands that can be enjoyed by our families and future generations.
League of Conservation Voters Latino Outreach Program is a national program that works with Latino communities and leaders to ensure that those who are most impacted by climate change and pollution have a strong voice in calling for solutions. For more information about environmental and public health issues impacting Latino communities, visit lcv.org/latinojoin