Elizabeth Warren environmental justice plan to combat climate change

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) speaks during a Town Hall at Keene State College on September 25, 2019 in Keene, New Hampshire.

Scott Eisen | Getty Images

Presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren introduced on Wednesday an environmental justice plan to defend low-income and minority communities against pollution, contamination and extreme weather events that are exacerbated by climate change.

The plan calls for spending at least $1 trillion in the next decade on the country’s most vulnerable communities, who are often concentrated in highly polluted areas and exposed to contamination from lead and other toxic chemicals from industrial and agricultural run-off.

“Our crisis of environmental injustice is the result of decades of discrimination and environmental racism compounding in communities that have been overlooked for too long,” Warren wrote in her plan.

“The same communities that have borne the brunt of industrial pollution are now on the front lines of climate change, often getting hit first and worst,” she wrote.

The Senator’s plan calls for improving equity mapping of marginalized communities to better identify climate risk damage from increasingly intense storms, droughts and wildfires.

Warren would mandate that all federal agencies consider climate impacts in developing rules, and would restore the Obama-era water rule, which the Trump administration recently rolled back. The plan also instructs the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Justice to enhance enforcement against industrial polluters.

Environmental justice is defined by the EPA as the fair treatment of all people and communities with respect to protection from environmental and health hazards.

One recent study shows that black families are more likely to live in neighborhoods with higher concentrations of air pollution than white families, despite having equal or higher incomes. Another study finds that while white people largely cause air pollution, blacks and Latinos are more likely to breathe in that polluted air.

A recent example of extreme weather disproportionately impacting low-income communities is Hurricane Dorian, which pummeled the Bahamas for days, destroying entire neighborhoods and killing 61 people. Many of the residents hit by Dorian did not have resilient infrastructure in place and did not have the resources to evacuate before the storm made landfall.

Warren’s plan would apply to communities on coasts threatened by storm surge and sea-level rise, as well as those who are more prone to wildfires and flooding. It would help people move out of flood-prone properties, and transform post-disaster housing assistance to better protect renters.

Warren highlighted several areas in the U.S. particularly vulnerable to pollution and health problems linked to toxic run-off. In Detroit, Michigan, a predominately African American neighborhood called Boynton is situated next to a large oil refinery, which has lead to high levels of cancer linked to toxins and has made that ZIP code the most polluted in the state.

In her plan, Warren said she would provide job training, guaranteed wage and benefit parity for fossil fuel workers transitioning into other industries, as well as pensions and early benefits for those who retire.

“Coal miners, oil rig workers, pipeline builders and millions of other workers have given their life’s blood to build the infrastructure that powered the American economy throughout the 20th century,” Warren wrote. “In return, they deserve more than platitudes.”

Additionally, the senator vowed to tighten bankruptcy laws to prevent coal and other fossil fuel companies from “evading their responsibility to their workers and to the communities that they have helped to pollute.”

The plan requires $1 trillion over the next 10 years, or roughly a third of Warren’s proposed climate investment. It did not specify where that money would come from, though Warren’s original climate plan details reverse tax cuts for the country’s most wealthy through the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

Warren has also reintroduced a Climate Risk Disclosure Act, which would would force companies to disclose their exposure to climate-related risks to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

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