News | April 2, 2021

Congressional bill helps communities facing environmental injustice

A bill to advance environmental justice was introduced in Congress earlier this month by U.S. Reps. Raúl Grijalva, Donald McEachin and U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth.

The Environmental Justice For All Act is a far-reaching bill that would:

  • strengthen the Civil Rights Act of 1964,
  • require federal agencies to consider cumulative impacts when making permitting decisions under the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act,
  • require meaningful community and tribal involvement under the National Environmental Policy Act and
  • help support communities and workers transitioning from polluting industries.

The bill is designed to give communities that have long suffered disproportionate impact from polluting industries a larger voice in decisions that impact them.

SELC is urging supporters to contact their representatives in the U.S. House and Senate as this bill moves forward and already more than 1,000 supporters have spoken out in support of stronger environmental justice protections.

“If you want to see why this legislation is critically needed, look no farther than the Boxtown neighborhood in Memphis, or countless other communities throughout the South,” said Chandra Taylor, Senior Attorney and leader of SELC’s Environmental Justice Initiative. “The passage of the Environmental Justice for All Act would give every community a direct and clear path to redress environmental injustice.”

Drinking water in Memphis and the Boxtown neighborhood is being threatened by a proposed pipeline that would be routed through both Black communities and over the Davis Wellfield, which provides Memphis drinking water pulled from the Memphis Sand Aquifer.

That same Memphis neighborhood also has air pollution problems because it is surrounded by polluting industries like an oil refinery.

For decades across the country, low-income and minority communities have had to watch, as oil refineries, pipelines, landfills, chemical plants and other polluters have located in close proximity.

A study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that communities living below the poverty line face a 35 percent higher burden from air pollution. The health burden placed on low-income and minority communities is no accident, but a result of systemic decisions made over decades.

“At key moments of our history, Congress has taken big and bold legislative actions to mend the tremendous wound and lasting impacts of racism in our nation,” said Taylor. “Passing this bill would be an integral part to correcting the past and ensuring the basic rights of all to clean air, clean water, and a healthy environment.”

The Environmental Justice for All Act would also work to establish more equitable access to parks and other outdoor recreation.