In the United States today, people of color and low-income people are disproportionately likely to be exposed to dangerous air pollutants. People of color make up more than half of those living close to toxic waste disposal sites, are more likely to have their children suffer from fatal lead poisoning, and have historically received less federal financial assistance in the wake of natural disasters.
During the 116th Congress (2019-2020), Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, who was the junior senator from California at the time, sponsored four bills that focused on climate and environmental justice to address such disparities. Harris also co-sponsored eight resolutions and 24 bills aimed at limiting pollution, enhancing wildlife conservation, and addressing climate change. We’ve taken a closer look at the four bills she sponsored below.
Water Justice Act
Approximately 43 percent of school districts have water supplies that have tested positive for lead, and 13 million households rely on water from wells not subject to federal regulation or tested for contaminants. The American Society of Civil Engineers has given the nation’s water infrastructure a “D” grade and estimates that $1 trillion in investments over 25 years is needed to bring the infrastructure up to standards. In 2016, 15 million Americans experienced a water shutoff due to nonpayment, with the highest shutoff rates disproportionately concentrated in low-income communities. Water issues in the United States range from contaminants and public health impacts to infrastructure and affordability.
The Water Justice Act (S.2466) sponsored by Harris, aimed to reshape U.S. water policies in order to ensure a supply of “safe, affordable, and sustainable” water for all Americans. Then-Senator Harris introduced this legislation as the Senate counterpart of H.R.4033 sponsored by Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), who represents Flint, Michigan, one of the highest-profile examples of the failure to provide clean water to communities.
The legislation focuses on a range of major federal investments in water security, including the management of stormwater, wastewater, and drinking water. Grants would be directed to a suite of water supply, recycling, and conservation programs, ranging from studying the need for new regulations on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS—manmade industrial chemicals that are suspected of causing cancer) to funding investments in water efficiency and conservation block grant programs. One major new program would identify “environmentally at-risk households”—households facing heightened environmental risks from hazards like a nearby toxic pollution site or highly contaminated water—and disburse grants to aid these households with contaminated water remediation. 01-19-21
Read more at Environmental and Energy Study Institute