Harris, Ocasio-Cortez introduce climate equity bill

Source: By Nick Sobczyk, E&E News reporter • Posted: Sunday, August 9, 2020

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) yesterday floated legislation to overhaul how the federal government tackles environmental justice.

The bicameral “Climate Equity Act” would establish an Office of Climate and Environmental Justice Accountability at the White House to offer environmental justice perspectives on federal rulemakings.

The measure would also require all relevant bills introduced in Congress to receive an “equity score” from a new branch of the Congressional Budget Office, a nonpartisan agency that offers cost estimates on legislation.

“COVID-19 has laid bare the realities of systemic racial, health, economic, and environmental injustices that persist in our country,” Harris, who is considered a top candidate for the Democratic vice presidential nomination, said in a statement.

“The environment we live in cannot be disentangled from the rest of our lives, and it is more important than ever that we work toward a more just and equitable future,” she said.

The legislation would fundamentally reshape the government’s efforts on environmental justice, which currently are largely run out of a single office at EPA.

On top of its efforts to make lawmakers and the White House more responsive to environmental justice communities, the bill would require each agency to appoint a director of climate and environmental justice.

While EPA already leads an interagency working group on environmental justice, some agencies have not participated at all, and the federal government’s efforts to coordinate on the issue have generally been mixed.

Ocasio-Cortez and Harris are two of the most prominent lawmakers on Capitol Hill, but they are not alone in their efforts to address environmental justice.

The pair also co-sponsors the “Environmental Justice For All Act,” another bicameral bill that would amend the National Environmental Policy and Civil Rights acts to incorporate communities that are disproportionately exposed to pollution.

There are also several other environmental justice bills floating around Capitol Hill, including the “Environmental Justice Act,” S. 2236, from Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.).

None is likely to become law with Republicans in control of the Senate, but it has become a prominent issue for Democrats after countrywide racial justice protests sparked by the death of George Floyd.

“The Democratic Party is now finally starting to embrace what many activists have long advocated: climate policy must be driven by and centered around frontline communities,” Ocasio-Cortez said in a statement.