Wyden, Merkley Join Colleagues to Introduce Comprehensive Legislation to Help Achieve Environmental Justice for All

Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley recently joined U.S. Sens. Kamala D. Harris, D-Calif., Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., to introduce the Environmental Justice for All Act to improve health equity and climate justice for all, particularly underserved communities and communities of color.

As the nation reckons with systemic racism, the fight for clean air, clean water, and a healthy environment cannot be disentangled from the fight for justice. Environmental racism fuels disparities in environmental and public health, and its impacts can be seen across society. Systemic barriers, including redlining, intentional disinvestment, and unregulated pollution, have systematically impacted communities of color.

“It’s past time Congress take action to tear down the many systemic barriers that threaten the health and safety of communities of color — and that means recognizing the need for environmental justice,” Wyden said. “Everyone, no matter the color of your skin or where you live, has a right to breathe clean air, drink clean water, live in safe housing and have access to the great outdoors.”

“No aspect of our society has been untouched by systemic racism and prejudice,”said Merkley, who is a member of the Senate Environmental Justice Caucus.“Communities of color, especially Black and Brown communities, have long borne the brunt of the impacts of climate chaos, pollution, and environmental degradation—which have in turn led to disproportionate rates of death, illness, displacement, and financial hardship. It’s long past time that we address these injustices head on, and I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to join us in the fight for healthy air, water, and soil for all.”

Specifically, the Environmental Justice for All Act:

  • Amends and Strengthens the Civil Rights Act of 1964: Prohibits discrimination based on disparate impacts and overturns Alexander v. Sandoval.
  • Requires the Consideration of Cumulative Impacts: Explicitly adds cumulative impacts in permitting decisions under the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act.
  • Codifies the Clinton Administration’s Environmental Justice Executive Order: Creates a working group to ensure compliance and enforcement and develop government-wide strategies.
  • Reinforces the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA): Requires early and meaningful involvement in actions impacting communities, including Tribes.
  • Asserts Health Equity: Funds programs to study potentially harmful products marketed towards women and girls of color.
  • Provides Outdoor Access for All: Establishes programs to ensure more equitable access to parks and the outdoors.
  • Establishes Environmental Justice Grant Programs: Funds grants for research, education, and projects to address environmental and public health issues.
  • Ensures a Fair and Just Transition: Establishes a Federal Energy Transition Economic Development Assistance Fund to support communities and workers as they transition away from fossil fuel-dependent economies.

Besides Wyden and Merkley other co-sponsors of the Harris, Booker and Duckworth legislation are U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif, Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Tina Smith, D-Minn., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Ed Markey, D-Mass., Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Tom Udall, D-N.M. The legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives by Reps. Raúl M. Grijalva, D-Ariz., Donald McEachin, D-Va.

The text of the Environmental Justice for All Act is here.

A one-pager of the Environmental Justice for All Act is here.