The House Energy & Commerce Committee Nov. 20 focused on how to protect communities struggling with climate and environmental injustices as the nation attempts to reach a 100 percent clean energy economy.
“It is an unfortunate, but inescapable, fact that where you live in this country determines the extent of the environmental health risks you face,” said Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), committee chair. “It is critically important that we hear from impacted communities as we work towards legislation to fight climate change and address environmental justice.”
“This administration has done nothing to protect the communities bearing disproportionate burdens of climate and other pollution,” Mustafa Santiago Ali, National Wildlife Federation vice president, told the committee.
According to Ali, 68 percent of African American communities live within 30 miles of a coal fired plant. More than one million live within a half mile of natural gas and oil wells, processing, transmission and storage facilities.
In 1994, an executive order required that 11 federal agencies make environmental equity a part of their mission and that they develop environmental justice strategies.
According to Alfredo Gomez, Government Accountability Office Natural Resources director, “Research continues to indicate a nationwide problem concerning how environmental health risks disproportionately affect minority and low-income communities.”
Ali, formerly with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, called for equitable renewable development, including building green energy projects in communities and hiring locally in some of the most fossil fuel heavy states. “Planning for the inevitable coal-to-clean economic transition can create new economic opportunities in every corner of the country,” he said.
Some Republican committee members objected to striving towards a carbon lite U.S. economy while China and India’s use of coal fired power grows. They claimed it would put the country at a disadvantage.
Ali also called for engaging struggling communities in decision making and for agency officials to spend time in impacted communities. He also called for using natural processes to bolster protection in low lying poor communities, including restoring wetlands to mitigate flooding impacts.