Kamala Harris goes big on environmental justice as Biden considers her as running mate

Source: By Dino Grandoni, Washington Post • Posted: Thursday, August 6, 2020

Days before Joe Biden makes a final decision on his running mate, Sen. Kamala D. Harris is making her case for the job by issuing a series of environmental justice bills.

The California Democrat put out her second bill tackling the racial injustices of pollution in as many weeks as she is being considered by Biden to join the Democratic Party’s 2020 ticket.

During the primary, Harris positioned herself to the left of Biden on climate change. But she and Biden want to tackle climate change and other environmental issues in a similar way — with a focus on racial injustice.

“She checks a lot of boxes that might not be immediately apparent on climate,” said Paul Bledsoe, a Biden backer and former Clinton White House climate adviser.

On Thursday, Harris teamed up with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) to introduce legislation meant to protect disadvantaged communities.

Their proposal, called the Climate Equity Act, would require relevant bills in Congress to be scored on how much they may adversely impact poor and minority communities, which often bear the brunt of pollution and other environmental damage.

“COVID-19 has laid bare the realities of systemic racial, health, economic, and environmental injustices that persist in our country,” Harris said in a statement. “The environment we live in cannot be disentangled from the rest of our lives.”

The equity score would be akin to the economic scores given out by the Congressional Budget Office on legislation.

Kerene Tayloe, director of federal legislative affairs at WE ACT for Environmental Justice, a New York-based environmental justice group, said the idea of creating such a scoring system “is a really big deal.”

“Nothing like that has ever existed,” said Tayloe, whose group advised Harris and Ocasio-Cortez on the legislation.

The bill would require regulations from the executive branch to undergo similar scrutiny.

Last week, Harris worked with Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) to introduce another measure reversing a Supreme Court decision making it harder for African Americans and other groups to sue under the Civil Rights Act for being disproportionately affected by pollution.

Harris may be able to add something to Biden’s ticket on climate.

The senator positioned herself as a liberal on climate change when she faced off against Biden during the presidential primary.

In early 2019, the California Democrat backed the Green New Deal, a sweeping plan led by Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) to aggressively cut carbon emissions over the next decade.

And she pledged $10 trillion in investment over 10 years to cut emissions — a goal more in line with Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vt.) $16.3 trillion climate plan than it was with Biden’s initial $1.7 trillion climate proposal.

Harris said “there’s no question I’m in favor of banning fracking” during a CNN town hall in September. But she did not embrace a ban on the practice in her climate plan, also released that month.

Biden has declined to endorse a ban on fracking, conscious of the jobs the natural gas extraction technique supports in the swing state of Pennsylvania.

At the same, Biden has made environmental justice a tenet of his own updated climate proposal released last month, which calls for 40 percent of clean energy money to go to disadvantaged communities.

Bolstering Harris’s credentials is her effort in 2005 to form a team to focus on environmental crimes while district attorney of San Francisco.

But her resume as a prosecutor in California is likely to make progressive more leery of her possible inclusion on the ticket, given the reckoning the country is going through on police violence after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Still, Bledsoe, an energy adviser at the Progressive Policy Institute, notes Harris’s California roots may be an asset when it comes to climate change. Her state, he notes, has been able to grow its economy while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“Harris has real credibility as a Californian on climate,” he said.