Washington, D.C. (July 21, 2021)—Today, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, held a hybrid hearing with environmental justice leaders and activists to examine the Biden-Harris Administration’s Justice40 Initiative to direct at least 40 percent of the benefits of climate and clean infrastructure investments to the hardest hit communities. In advance of the hearing, the White House released Interim Guidance to implement this initiative.
“Taking what we learned today from environmental justice leaders and experts, I plan to advance an ‘All of the Benefits; None of the Harm’ Environmental Justice Platform in the weeks ahead,” said Chairwoman Maloney. “Next month, I will hold a field hearing on the peaker power plants that are polluting the communities represented by Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez and myself. As the Chairwoman of the Oversight Committee, I will do everything in my power to ensure that federal dollars get to the communities that need them most, and that agencies urgently and effectively incorporate environmental justice into their agendas.”
Ahead of today’s hearing, Chairwoman Maloney and Committee Member Rep. Cori Bush sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office requesting an evaluation of the Army Corps of Engineers’ Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program (FUSRAP) environmental liability reporting and remediation efforts. Underfunding of the program has left discarded toxic hazards to threaten communities across the country, including radioactive waste in Congresswoman Bush’s district in Missouri.
“For decades, the radioactive waste in Coldwater Creek has devastated our communities, sickening our neighbors with rare cancers and creating a dangerous environment for our children,” said Congresswoman Bush. “The federal government’s efforts to remediate the radiological contamination they created and dumped have been too slow, and our communities continue to suffer. In order to save lives, we need to act now to rapidly clean up Coldwater Creek, and I am proud to be partnering with Chairwoman Maloney in this effort.”
The committee heard testimony from Mr. Michael Leon Guerrero, Executive Director, Labor Network for Sustainability; Mr. Richard Moore, Co-Coordinator of Los Jardines Institute and National Co-Coordinator, Environmental Justice Health Alliance; Ms. Nicole Lee Ndumele, Vice President of Racial Equity and Justice at the Center for American Progress; Mr. Harold Mitchell, Founder and Executive Director of ReGenesis Community Development Corporation; Ms. Raya Salter, Esq., Member of the New York State Climate Action Council; and Shay Hawkins, Chairman and CEO of the Opportunity Funds Association.
Witnesses stressed that Justice40 and environmental justice policy must be community-focused to effectively support communities of color and low-income communities.
- Ms. Ndumele testified: “Systemic and institutional racism have facilitated and exacerbated the concentration of dangerous pollutants in Black, brown, and indigenous communities. Structural inequalities have led to high levels of racial segregation, significant environmental and economic injustices, and a persistent and widening racial wealth gap.”
- Asked by Rep. Jamie Raskin about measures that should be taken to ensure enforcement agencies are protecting communities from environmental harms, Mr. Mitchell responded: “It’s always on the backs of those that are burdened and the vulnerable communities that are taking the brunt, and this is where I’m hoping that this oversight would take a look at the disproportionate impact in these communities and communities of color.”
- Rep. Ayanna Pressley stated, “It is no coincidence that the urban heat island effect is more pronounced in the same neighborhoods—the same—that have been historically redlined.” When she asked if that was racism, Ms. Salter testified: “Absolutely I would call it racism, segregation, environmental degradation, demonization, dehumanization, leading to sacrifice zones and disparate environmental effects to people of color in particular.”
- In response to a question about whether the transition to a green economy could be done successfully, Ms. Salter responded: “We can move away from fossil fuels but make sure that the communities and the sectors that are currently dependent on them are not left behind and we want to have those clean energy industries.”
Witnesses highlighted the key role the Committee can play in overseeing Justice40 implementation to ensure a whole-of-government approach to direct community investment.
- When asked by Rep. Ayanna Pressley whether having better tools to demonstrate how decisions impact marginalized communities would help policymakers, Mr. Mitchell responded that people were “desperately looking for” oversight through this initiative to guide investment decisions, stating, “Legislators and governors are actually depending on Justice40 because we’ve never seen this type of investment before.”
- Ms. Salter testified: “We need the support of the federal government and others to fund these types of projects so that we can know what we’re dealing with, bring in the solutions that will work and measure and track it, and that’s something also we truly hope this committee will continue to do in oversight.”
- Mr. Moore testified that one challenge is to ensure “accountability on the part of the state to make sure that the resources are put back into … grassroots communities and communities of color and native indigenous communities.”
- Ms. Ndumele testified: “Congress, and this committee especially, has an important role to play to ensure that Justice40 delivers real and measurable benefits to disadvantaged communities to right the wrongs of environmental and systemic racism. This Committee can make sure that the Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool to identify disadvantaged communities is designed well and developed in collaboration with environmental justice advocates and academics. It can ensure that the Environmental Justice Scorecard … accurately measures this administration’s performance.”
Witnesses and Committee Members praised the Justice40 Initiative, calling attention to the need for immediate implementation and maximizing benefits in the hardest hit communities.
- Rep. Robin Kelly explained: “Justice40 provides a centralized interagency approach that will allow us to identify cumulative impacts and ensure investments get where they’re needed. … I am proud to support the Justice40 Initiative as championed by the White House and local leaders, and I do look forward to the Oversight Committee’s continued engagement to make sure we get this done. If we can get it right, it will truly be transformational.”
- Responding to Republican claims that fighting climate change is not worth the cost, Ms. Salter testified: “The costs of inaction far outweigh the cost to take action. You mentioned $130 billion of value lost in Texas in just that recent gas interruption. $63 billion from Hurricane Sandy. $125 billion from Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Katrina, on, and on, and on. We use those some of those baselines in New York to think about what we’re looking at even from flooding. And the costs are astronomical. It is about survival, and it is about making those investments now.”
- In response to questioning from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ms. Salter testified: “The American Jobs Plan needs to ensure not only early action on emissions and co-pollutant reductions in frontline communities, but also take into account cumulative impact. The cumulative impacts of past policy on current wealth … in addition to health.”
- Mr. Guerrero testified: “It is going to require sustained investment over time for it to actually work, and this is an absolute necessity if we really want do this transition correctly in terms of investing in environmental justice and the transition of workers and communities that are going to be impacted.”
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