BY VALERIE VOLCOVICI
U.S. Senator Kamala Harris and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Thursday introduced legislation to beef up federal accountability for pollution in minority communities disproportionately harmed by climate change.
Harris, a leading contender to be Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s running mate, was running in the Democratic primary last year when she first floated the Climate Equity Act with Ocasio-Cortez.
At the time, the California senator also voiced support for the Green New Deal in a bid to burnish her progressive credentials and appeal to young voters. That measure, sponsored in the House by New York Representative Ocasio-Cortez, is a 10-year, government-driven mobilization to invest in renewable energy, conservation and other measures to slash U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases. President Donald Trump and Republicans have called it a socialist plan that would wreck the economy.
The revised bill reflects changes made after receiving public comments and meetings with groups pushing for environmental justice, which Biden has made a focus of his own climate change plan introduced last month.
“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,” said Ocasio-Cortez. “For too long, policies that affect communities of color have been determined by a few white men in a room in Washington.”
The revised bill would house a new office of Climate and Environmental Justice Accountability in the White House’s Office of Management and Budget. The original proposal called for housing the office at the Environmental Protection Agency, but activists raised concerns that it would not have enough power there.
The new proposal also adds the Department of Treasury, Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Small Business Administration to the list of agencies that would have directors of environmental justice.
It also would create a required “equity score” to evaluate future legislation in congress addressing frontline communities, modeled after economic scores provided by the Congressional Budget Office.
Last week, Harris co-sponsored a separate environmental justice bill with another Biden running mate contender, Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth. It would require EPA to weigh cumulative impacts of issuing air and water permits to several facilities in the same area to avoid over-burdening poor neighborhoods with pollution.