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When we look back on 2021, we may remember it first and foremost as a year of resilience and opportunity.
Despite our country’s continued experience of global pandemic, systemic racism, economic hardship, and the climate crisis, people across the country rallied together to push for progress: COVID-19 vaccine distribution and the re-opening of nonessential businesses. Voting rights legislation passed through the U.S. House and the most diverse White House Cabinet in our nation’s history. Clean energy progress in the states and Biden-Harris administrative action to advance the strongest clean cars standards ever and transition the federal fleet to all-electric.
The January 2021 inauguration of a trifecta of pro-climate, pro-justice leadership to the White House, U.S. Senate, and U.S. House was a critical feat that our movement played a key role in achieving. It has resulted in crucial climate and environmental justice progress throughout 2021, including:
Alongside this federal progress, we’ve also seen exciting state-level climate and clean energy progress over the past year — thanks in no small part to the work of LCV’s Clean Energy for All campaign and our 30+ state affiliates. State-level wins include the enactment of the Illinois Climate & Equitable Jobs Act — the most comprehensive, equitable climate and energy bill in the nation — and the recent passage of a net-zero carbon goal by Nebraska’s largest public utility board.
These successes are only possible because of the continued support of donors like you. Your investment in LCV’s work, year after year, ensures that we have the resources to advocate and organize for a healthy, safe, and just future for all. Thank you.
And now, here is your Special Edition of LCV’s Top 10, 2021 Year in Review, listed in chronological order of the months these news items were published:
LCV Releases List of Policy Priorities for the Biden-Harris Admin & 117th Congress
On January 19, The day before President Biden and Vice President Harris were sworn in, LCV released our initial policy priorities for the new administration and Congress, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi and newly designated Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
These priorities include reentering the Paris Agreement (check!), launching an all-of-government science-based climate action plan that centers environmental justice and workers (in progress), and passing a $2 trillion economic recovery package that will rebuild a more just, equitable, and healthy society and create millions of family-sustaining union jobs (TBD at the time; see below for an update).
To hold the Biden-Harris administration and members of Congress to their campaign promises and pass this ambitious legislative agenda, we’re going to need your help. Start by checking out our full list of priorities here.
UPDATE: LCV’s report, 100 Days in Office: A Foundation for Transformational Change, details the many ways in which the Biden-Harris administration started to deliver on its historic campaign commitments to tackle the climate crisis, confront racial, environmental, and economic injustice, and fix our democracy. Additionally, on November 15, President Biden signed into law the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act which contained badly needed investments in electric vehicle charging stations and electric school buses, replacement of harmful lead service lines that pollute drinking water, clean technology research and development, grid modernization, and more. In December, the Biden-Harris administration announced the launch of the Electric Vehicle Charging Action Plan, a powerful commitment toward a clean vehicle future, and followed it up with the strongest ever cleaner cars standards from EPA that will drive EVs to 17% of new car sales by 2026. LCV and our partners continue to push for the passage of the Build Back Better Act, which contains the transformational climate, jobs, and justice investments our nation needs to equitably address the climate crisis. The Act has passed in the U.S. House; the Senate is expected to take up the bill in early 2022.
Chispa Florida Program Launches
On February 4, the Chispa family celebrated the much-anticipated launch of the Chispa Florida program with a Facebook Live! event that featured a performance by Orlando-based Puerto Rican musician Nohemy and Florida state legislator Carlos G. Smith, who highlighted the importance of lifting up environmental justice work and the leadership of the Chispa Florida and Florida Conservation Voters team. Local community partner organizations also joined the virtual event, during which the Chispa Florida team discussed their commitment and plans to build grassroots power and ways to get involved.
“We are looking forward to building power and building community leadership in a state where Latinx communities are so key,” said Chispa National Director Johana Vicente. “We know that communities of color are disproportionately impacted by environmental issues, and we also know that we are leaders in this movement. We are excited to continue building the base of leaders who are going to make an impact and have a say in decision making for a clean energy future.” Watch the Chispa Florida launch event in full here.
UPDATE: Maria Revelles, Program Director of Chispa Florida, talks about the need for candidates to commit to finding local climate solutions in a November 2021 Bloomberg article, The Rise of the Local Climate Candidate. “Being an environmentalist, it’s not just about people who love the polar bears — it’s about people getting displaced, and losing their ways of life, and this is how this conversation needs to happen,” said Revelles. Click to read the article.
LCV’S 2020 National Environmental Scorecard Reveals House and Senate Took Vastly Different Approaches to Crises
In February, LCV released our 2020 National Environmental Scorecard, a nationally recognized yardstick for evaluating the environmental records of members of Congress. The 2020 Scorecard revealed a stark contrast between the approaches that the House and Senate majorities’ leadership teams took on environmental progress and the crises plaguing our nation, and it includes votes that reflect LCV’s belief that these struggles are intertwined and must be addressed together. For the first time, the 2020 National Environmental Scorecard includes racial justice-related votes in Congress on removing public monuments to racism and policing and criminal justice reform.
While the diverse, pro-environment majority in the House of Representatives prioritized climate action and relief for communities on the front lines of the crises, the then-Republican-controlled Senate blocked progress at almost every turn. In fact, the 2020 Scorecard can tell this story using only two numbers: the House majority’s leadership received an average score of 100%, while the Senate majority’s leadership received an average score of 8%. Read more here.
UPDATE: LCV’s 2021 National Environmental Scorecard will be released early next year. It will detail the votes that members of Congress took this year to advance (or block) climate, jobs, and justice legislation at the federal level, including votes on the Build Back Better Act, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, and the Protect Our Democracy Act.
Electric School Bus Advocates Call for $25 Billion Commitment to Transition Fleets to Clean Energy
In March, the Climate Leadership and Environmental Action for our Nation’s (CLEAN) Future Act of 2021 was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives. This comprehensive climate bill contains a bold and forward-looking provision: a revised Clean Commute for Kids Act, which authorizes an investment of $25 billion to rapidly transition almost half the school bus fleet to clean, electric buses and targets grants to school districts serving communities with unhealthy air pollution and lower incomes.
This bill has been a long time coming, as the Alliance for Electric School Buses — a diverse partnership of equity, labor, public health, clean energy, and environmental organizations, including LCV — has worked for years to secure funding to help transition our nation’s school bus fleets to clean energy. In advance of the bill’s release, LCV’s Chispa and Alliance for Electric School Buses sent a letter encouraging the Biden-Harris administration to make the same big investment in the transition of our nation’s school bus fleet, especially in communities of color, for those facing worse air quality, and for those with lower incomes.
“Investing $25 billion would mean helping 25 million children riding school buses breathe cleaner air in the formative years when their lungs are developing,” said Johana Vicente, National Director of Chispa. “After years of parents, students, and advocates organizing for a clean ride for kids, we are excited to work with Congress to pass funding to bring more electric school buses to communities throughout the country.” Read more about the CLEAN Future Act of 2021 here and be sure to follow Chispa LCV on Twitter.
UPDATE: On November 15, President Biden signed into law the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which contains $2.5 billion for electric school buses (ESB) and $2.5 billion in which ESB compete for funding with not-as-clean alternatives. While more investment is still needed to ensure all 25 million children who rely on buses are able to breathe clean air on their daily ride to school, this initial investment will begin the transition to cleaner buses. Shortly after the law was signed, TIME magazine published an article on the historic nature of this investment, which noted Chispa’s leadership on this issue and quoted LCV Chispa National Senior Director Johana Vicente: “‘The burden of [respiratory] health problems falls heaviest on low-income communities of color… School buses were not necessarily part of the conversation at all,’ says Vicente. ‘It was a very new topic that we were talking about.’” Read the TIME article here.
LCV Claims Victory with the Conclusion of LCV vs. Trump
In May 2017, we joined a group of conservation and Alaska Native groups in suing the Trump administration over its attempt to jettison a permanent ban on new offshore oil and gas drilling in virtually the entire Arctic Ocean and sensitive areas of the Atlantic Ocean. It was the first time in LCV’s nearly 50-year history that we had ever taken an administration to court. But we felt compelled to take this step because offshore drilling and the associated threat of devastating oil spills puts coastal economies and ways of life at risk while worsening the consequences of climate change.
Now, nearly four years later, we can finally claim victory. In April 2021, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed an appeal in the League of Conservation Voters et al v Donald J. Trump et al case, which reaffirmed President Obama’s permanent ban on 128 million acres of ocean territory in the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans.
In light of this hard-won success, LCV President Gene Karpinski said in a statement, “This is a big victory for our oceans, marine life, and our climate — and all people who rely on clean beaches and healthy marine environments. We’re thrilled that the ban on oil and gas leasing will remain in place for millions of acres of vibrant and sensitive offshore waters in the Arctic Ocean and key parts of the Atlantic Ocean.” Read the full statement here.
LCV Announces Support for Historic Reparations Vote on H.R. 40 in the House Judiciary Committee
LCV builds political power for people and the planet. Yet political power is not equitably distributed in our country and never has been. The racism deeply embedded in our country’s governance and structures means that Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color are more impacted by climate change, breathe more polluted air, face greater barriers to voting, and have been habitually excluded from the spaces where decisions that impact their health, livelihoods, and rights are made.
With pro-climate action and pro-justice leadership in both chambers of Congress and the White House, our nation has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to address the climate and environmental crises in a racially just and equitable manner. Now is the moment to be bolder than ever before, and to do so, dismantling structural racism should be a top priority. LCV believes the call for reparations for African Americans is a first and necessary step towards achieving this goal, which is why we support the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act (H.R. 40, and its companion S. 40) becoming law. Read LCV’s full statement in support of H.R. 40 here.
In mid-July, LCV published a new blog post by LCV Voting Rights Program Director Justin Kwasa and LCV Law Clerk Melanie Fineman about the late Representative John Lewis’ lifelong fight for civil rights, the connection between the right to vote and the right to a healthy environment, and the importance of continuing his legacy a year after his death. The blog was written in response to the Brnovich v DNC Supreme Court decision earlier that month, which gutted vital protections in the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965. The blog authors write that, to ensure the health of our democracy and protect the voting rights of all communities, we must pass a new generation of voting rights bills, including the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
“The late John Lewis is best known as a champion for civil rights, but he was a champion for environmental justice as well. He knew that the impacts of corporate pollution and climate change are often felt disproportionately by communities of color across this country. It’s why he co-sponsored the Environmental Justice Act with then-Senator Al Gore back in 1992.
When we look at the root causes of these inequities, we always point back to a lack of influence and representation for these communities throughout the decision making process….” Continue reading here.
UPDATE: In November, Senate Republicans blocked debate and a vote on the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, the fourth time this year they’ve used Senate rules to block debate on protecting the right to vote. Over the past year, the U.S. House has passed the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, the Washington, D.C. Admission Act, the Freedom to Vote Act, and, most recently, the Protecting Our Democracy Act. All of these bills have stalled in the Senate; meanwhile states across the country — 19 and counting — continue to pass bills that make it more difficult to vote. LCV continues to advocate for changing procedural rules so that the Senate can act on these bills and send them to President Biden’s desk for his signature.
In August, the Redford Center, in collaboration with Chispa and LCV announced the launch of a new series of short films in a collective call for civic engagement around clean transportation to build a safer, more just future.
As part of The Redford Center’s Power the Vote civic engagement initiative, this new series, titled Community Power, showcases local activists, storytellers, and culture-makers as the visionary leaders that are building the movement to fight for environmental justice and regeneration.
The first film in the series, Community Power Arizona: En Nuestrxs Manos (In Our Hands) was directed by Chispa Communications and Creative Strategies Director Pita Juarez and tells the story of Chispa Arizona Senior Organizer Teo Argueta and a group of local mothers who make the connection between dirty diesel school buses, air pollution and local health impacts, and specifically childhood asthma and lead the way in fighting for clean air for their children and communities. Read more about this powerful film series — and watch En Nuestrxs Manos — here.
UPDATE: On December 9, the Redford Center and Chispa released the second film in the Community Power series. The new film, Community Power Nevada: Unidxs En Acción (United In Action), tells the story of how Southern Nevada’s Latinx community is advocating for clean transportation as a key solution for improving their state’s air quality and public health outcomes. Read more and watch the film here.
HUGE VICTORY: “Most Equitable Climate Bill in America” is Signed into Law in Illinois
In September, thanks in part to the work of LCV’s Clean Energy for All campaign and our state affiliate, the Illinois Environmental Council, the Climate & Equitable Jobs Act (CEJA) passed in both chambers of the Illinois General Assembly. After years of education, movement building, and advocacy, the legislation was quickly signed into law by Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker a few days after its passage. CEJA — which is being hailed as the “most equitable climate bill in America,” — is a set of bold and ambitious climate policies that center racial and economic justice, and it makes Illinois the 13th state to commit to 100% clean energy. Read the full press release from the Illinois Environmental Council, LCV’s state affiliate.
UPDATE: We won another HUGE Clean Energy for All campaign victory in early December, when Nebraska became the first “red” state to commit to net-zero emissions, thanks to the state’s largest utility, the Nebraska Public Power District, passing a resolution that commits to a net-zero greenhouse gas emissions goal. This follows similar votes from the state’s other two major utility boards, making nearly the entire state served by electric utilities dedicated to decarbonization and putting Nebraska firmly on a path toward 100% clean energy. This victory was years in the making and due to LCV’s state affiliate, Nebraska Conservation Voters (NCV), which worked steadily to elect clean energy champions to Nebraska’s three major public power boards, extensively educate them on the benefits of decarbonization, and cultivate their support for the goal of net-zero emissions. Through grassroots organizing and advocacy, NCV also worked hard to build public support for decarbonization and make sure that board members heard their constituents’ demands for clean, reliable, and affordable energy. Click here to read more about this exciting win in Nebraska, and click here to read the full 2021 Clean Energy for All report, which details how, this year, 28 different states passed either comprehensive climate or clean energy legislation, stopped new fossil fuel industry backed efforts, or made major advancements through statewide boards.
On Tuesday, November 3, we saw disappointing losses in Virginia’s state elections. Yet at the same time, we were encouraged by the environmental champions who claimed victory in key races across the country. Numerous young, Black, Brown, Latinx, Indigenous, Asian, and Arab American candidates put climate action and environmental justice front and center in their elections and won.
Victories for climate champion at the state and local level include:
Electing climate champions to state and local offices is vital to ensuring that our nation can meet overall climate goals and implement federal climate action through the Build Back Better Act. Much of the climate and clean energy progress our movement has made over the last five years has come from state and local leaders who pledged to address the climate crisis head-on. As a result of their leadership, 1 in 3 people in this country now live in a place committed to 100% clean energy. Read more about the climate champions elected to state and local office here.
UPDATE: At her first bill signing, Boston’s Mayor Michelle Wu signed an ordinance requiring the city’s trust funds to divest from fossil fuel by the end of 2025. (The city’s retirement and pension funds, valued at over $8 billion, remain invested in fossil fuels. LCV’s state affiliate, the Environmental League of Massachusetts, is advocating for full divestment.) She also announced new, lower electricity rates through Boston’s Community Choice Electricity (CCE) program, which provides residents with three different energy packages that include between 18% and 100% local, renewable energy depending on the package chosen. Additionally, Mayor Wu announced that three bus lines serving environmental justice communities will be fare-free for the next two years. All three actions are part of the mayor’s “Boston Green New Deal & Just Recovery” plan. Likewise, Cleveland’s Mayor-elect, Justin Bibb, has already announced his intention to make climate a top priority for his administration. All the job postings for key positions within his administration have minimum requirements that include an understanding of climate change and climate justice.