It’s not that expectations were very high for the Republican debate in Detroit on Thursday night. Even so, the debate hardly paid attention to the city’s troubles with lead poisoning. Aside for brief comments from Marco Rubio (in which he defended Republican Gov. Rick Snyder), the GOP brushed the issue aside, while standing a mere 70 miles from Flint. Instead, we heard about more pressing topics — like presidential penises.
Democrats have their own debate in Flint on Sunday, when environmental justice activists have higher hopes for a substantive discussion on both race and the environment.
“If Flint is not the place that this happens, it probably is not going to happen in a controlled format with two presidential candidates, ever,” Anthony Rogers-Wright, policy and organizing director of Environmental Action, told Grist.
A coalition of groups partnering with Environmental Action delivered a petition with 85,000 signatures that calls on the Democratic National Committee to focus solely on racial and environmental justice. Sierra Club, the NAACP, and local community leaders are holding their own event Sunday to draw attention to other “Flints” around the country.
Both Environmental Action and Sierra Club gave Grist separate lists of sample questions they’d like to hear answers to — the topics include hydraulic fracturing, the future of fossil fuels, and equitable policy to help communities of color.
Here’s what Environmental Action wants answers on:
1. Robert Bullard, known as the “father” of environmental justice in America, has said that climate change impacts communities of color “first and worst.” As president, what specific steps would you take to make sure your policies to fight global warming better protect communities of color on the front lines of this global crisis?
2. Secretary Clinton, you just released a bulletin that calls for more use of natural gas as well as carbon capture and sequestration. But wouldn’t this plan mean increased fracking across the country and the potential for drinking water sources to be tainted as it is right here in Flint? Is there a safe way to frack, and if so, what steps would you take to ensure safety and minimize disproportionate impacts to communities of color?
3. Last December, nearly 200 world leaders signed an agreement you both support to cap global warming at 1.5-2 degrees Celsius. To accomplish that goal, scientists tell us we must leave 80 percent of proven fossil fuel reserves in the ground. As president, what specific policies would you implement to limit new oil, gas, and coal development and keep America under this “carbon budget”? Secretary Clinton, will you support Sen. Sanders’ plan to ban drilling and mining on public lands and waters, the so-called “Keep It In The Ground” act?
4. Sen. Sanders, how will you enforce a ban on fossil fuel extraction without the support of Congress — which has voted in favor of the Keystone pipeline, oil exports, gas exports, and other fossil fuel extraction in the last six months?
5. Solutions to climate change such as electric cars and efficient lightbulbs are predicated on economic resources that are unavailable to many low-wealth communities of color. What climate change strategies would each of you implement to ensure that people of all income levels can take part in and benefit from living sustainably?
6. Policies like President Bill Clinton’s Executive Order 12898, created to address environmental racism, have been never been ratified or implemented as a national law. If elected, how would you overcome political obstacles that stand in the way of equitable and efficient environmental policy?
7. Secretary Clinton, your past statements, referring to men of color as “super-predators,” and past polices that you supported that resulted in the mass incarceration of largely Latino and African American [men] have caused some to question your commitment to racial justice. Do you regret your previous statement and support of that policy, and how would you correct it as president?
8. The GI Bill, New Deal, and favorable housing policies created generational wealth for white Americans. These programs were largely not made available to people of color, which in part contributes to the vast wealth disparity between white people and people of color. What are some specific policies you would implement to not only increase incomes for people of color, but also allow them to generate similar generational wealth as their white counterparts?
9. Native Americans who live on sovereign land have seen treaties broken time and time again, which has exposed them to toxic air and water as well as unequal protection and due process. As president, what commitment will you make to ensure tribal sovereignty and that treaties are respected and maintained?
10. Free trade agreements like NAFTA have not only contributed to increased carbon emissions, but they have also had significant impacts on jobs in communities like Flint, Detroit, Cleveland, and others. Some studies have shown that communities of color were hit the hardest from jobs shipped overseas as a result of these agreements. Where do each of you stand on free trade agreements, and if you advocate for them, how will you ensure they have environmental standards and do not result in the loss of American jobs essential to maintaining the middle class?
11. Should immigration enforcement should be suspended until the 1,000+ undocumented people in Flint get the services and help they need, should the Border Patrol should continue setting up in and around the city while this crisis is ongoing?
Sierra Club added three questions of its own that its members on the ground in Michigan want answered:
12. Do you think emergency manager laws, like the one in Michigan, are compatible with democratic ideals?
13. How should the government ensure that rebuilding after a disaster like Flint provides good paying local jobs that help lift up the community?
14. How should the federal government get involved when a crisis like Flint occurs?
Hold out some hope that CNN, which is moderating the debate, is listening. Rogers-Wright spoke to a network representative earlier this week about the questions the network should ask on Sunday, so a couple of these may indeed get prime-time attention.
Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders hopefully won’t need too much prompting, though: Ahead of Michigan’s primary next week, Clinton has drawn attention to Flint’s problems as a main focus of her campaign, and Sanders has also called on Snyder to resign.