Advancing Policy

This AANHPI Heritage Month, LCV Celebrates AANHPI Environmental Champions in Congress

May 23, 2024

May is Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islanders (AANHPI) Heritage Month, a time to recognize and honor the profound impact Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders have had on U.S. history and culture. To celebrate, we’re highlighting the work of AANHPI members of Congress and their contributions to historic federal climate action. We thank each one of these members for their incredible work and look forward to continuing to work alongside them in the fight to protect people and the planet.

Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL)

“Every American has the right to breathe safe air, drink clean water and live on uncontaminated land regardless of their zip code, the size of their wallet and the color of their skin.”

A mom, immigrant, and Army veteran, Senator Tammy Duckworth has been fighting for climate and environmental justice in Congress for over a decade. Born in Bangkok, Thailand and raised in Honolulu, Hawai’i, she became the first Thai American woman elected to Congress in 2012. She served two terms representing Illinois’ eighth congressional district in the House before her election to the Senate in 2016.

During her time in the Senate, Senator Duckworth launched the Environmental Justice Caucus (EJC) with co-founders Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Tom Carper (D-DE), as well as the EJC’s Senate Task Force on lead and copper. In the five years since it was founded, the EJC has fought to advance legislation aimed at addressing the environmental injustices faced by communities of color and low-wealth communities across the country.

Senator Duckworth also led the reintroduction of legislation to establish the Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley National Monument to honor 14-year-old Emmett Till, an African American teenager who was brutally murdered in 1955, and his mother Mamie Till-Mobley who became a civil rights icon following his death. The monument was designated by President Biden in July 2023.

One of Senator Duckworth’s most notable accomplishments is the passage of the Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act to repair failing water systems and replace lead service lines, which was signed into law as part of the President’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Senator Duckworth has also introduced the Environmental Justice for All Act, the most comprehensive environmental justice legislation in U.S. history, in the 117th and 118th Congresses.

Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI)

“People deserve fair access to a clean and healthy environment and to be protected from environmental hazards… I will continue working to ensure historically marginalized communities have access to the resources they need to live healthier, more sustainable lives.”

Senator Mazie Hirono immigrated to Hawai’i from Japan with her family as a child. Her education and early experiences in public service led her to a long career in state government including serving as Lieutenant Governor before she was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2006 to serve Hawai’i’s second district. In 2012, she became the first Japanese-American, the first Asian-American woman, and the first woman representing Hawai’i to be elected to  the U.S. Senate.

In addition to blazing a trail for Asian-Americans and women in federal government, Senator Hirono has been a fierce champion for democracy and environmental issues in Congress. She led 11 colleagues in the Senate in introducing the Time Off to Vote Act, and serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee where she works to confirm pro-democracy, pro-environment judges to federal judicial positions. She also serves on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources legislating on issues including public lands, renewable energy, conservation, energy regulation, and appliance standards.

Finally, Senator Hirono has been an advocate for climate resilience and environmental justice in Hawai’i, and has called for Big Oil to be held accountable for their role in exacerbating the climate crisis.

Representative Judy Chu (D-CA-28)

“Whether through worse storms or less food, climate change will affect all of us eventually.”

As the first Chinese-American woman elected to Congress in 2009 and chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) for the last 13 years, Representative Judy Chu has been instrumental in passing legislation to protect public land and address the climate crisis in California and across the country.

Most recently, she worked with Senator Alex Padilla (D-CA) and a coalition of state, local, and Tribal leaders to advocate for the expansion of the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, which was announced by President Biden earlier this month. The San Gabriel expansion will help close the nature gap for nearby communities, which are disproportionately communities of color and low-wealth communities.  It will also sustain freshwater resources for Los Angeles residents and protect more than 300 endangered and California-endemic species.

Representative Doris Matsui (D-CA-07)

“The climate crisis necessitates strong, unified action to curb its devastating consequences. By giving everyday Americans the tools to be an active part of the clean energy transition, we are building greener, more resilient communities.”

Representative Doris Matsui, a Japanese-American, has represented Sacramento in the U.S. House for nearly 20 years. In her role as co-chair of the House Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition (SEEC), Representative Matsui has worked to advance numerous policies to address the climate crisis, including being a leader in securing tax incentives and credits for clean energy projects through the Inflation Reduction Act.

Representative Matsui also co-chairs the Nature and Oceans Task Force with Representative Joe Neguse (D-CO-02) which works to utilize nature-based solutions to address both the climate crisis and the loss of biodiversity.

Additionally, Representative Matsui has been a key player in advocating for stronger vehicle emissions standards both on the state and national level. She has advocated for California’s Clean Air Act waiver, led Dear Colleague letters urging EPA to finalize the strongest emissions standards for clean cars, clean trucks, and heavy duty vehicles, and in 2019 authored the bipartisan Diesel Emissions Reduction Act aiming to reduce emissions from heavily-polluting diesel vehicles. She has also championed investment in public transportation hubs, promoted legislation to protect the electrical grid from natural disasters, and has helped transform Sacramento into a clean-tech capital in the U.S.

Representative Andy Kim (D-NJ-03)

“I believe climate change is a national security crisis. That’s why I’m proud to have been a part of helping to enact the largest investment in tackling climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions in history.”

Former diplomat and national security advisor to President Obama, Representative Andy Kim, a second-generation Korean-American, has represented New Jersey’s third district since 2019. In 2022, he helped pass President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, delivering the largest climate investment in history.

At the state level, Representative Kim has worked to secure federal funding to improve climate resilience, restore marsh habitats, improve rail infrastructure, and provide natural disaster relief in New Jersey.

Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-WA-07)

Representative Pramila Jayapal poses by an American flag.

“Climate change and its impacts are not some future problem – these are issues we face right now, and they threaten our most vulnerable communities.”

Representative Pramila Jayapal immigrated to the U.S. from India at the age of 16, and became the first South Asian American woman elected to the House in 2016. She is currently serving her fourth term representing Washington’s seventh district. As chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Representative Jayapal has shown her commitment to addressing the climate crisis and promoting environmental justice-based solutions.

She has led and supported various legislation aimed at advancing environmental justice, and has worked to highlight the impact of fossil fuel infrastructure on frontline communities, spoken out in favor of President Biden’s pause on new LNG export projects, and has been a key player in fighting for the fundamental right to a liveable planet. Representative Jayapal also introduced the Climate Resilience Workforce Act to invest in creating and training a workforce that can help the nation prepare and respond to the climate crisis.

Closer to home, Representative Jayapal has helped secure funding for ocean-based climate solutions and to build charging infrastructure for electric cars and trucks.

For more information on these AANHPI environmental champions in Congress, as well as other champions of color, visit the LCV National Environmental Scorecard.