For far too long, pollution has threatened our health and well-being. Too many children continue to suffer from asthma simply because they live along the fence line of a factory. Too many families struggle to stay healthy with no access to affordable, clean, and safe drinking water. And too many Indigenous and communities of color are forced to cope with the destruction of their fisheries and farmlands from chemical spills and indiscriminate contaminated waste dumping.
Black, brown, and Indigenous people across America face disproportionate health burdens from environmental pollution. Too many communities sit in the crosshairs of climate change, facing increasing safety and health risks without the resources and support they need.
Through no fault of their own, frontline communities have been marginalized, disinvested, and disempowered. It is time that our country secures justice for these communities.
President Biden signed an executive order in January that jump-started our effort to mobilize every government agency to tackle the climate crisis and ensure that we consistently recognize and prioritize environmental justice communities as we rebuild our economy.
President Biden’s understanding of environmental justice is rooted in a simple belief in fairness that is foundational to who he is as a person. He knows that we cannot truly build back better unless we address systemic inequality.
He knows that protecting our environment is about protecting people — my family, your family, his family. He believes all people have a fundamental right to breathe clean air and drink clean water.
And he understands that for far too many Americans, especially people of color, government has failed to deliver those basic rights. That’s partly because the people who are most affected by environmental injustice lack a seat at the table on critical decisions that directly affect their families and communities.
That is why President Biden just formed the first-ever White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council. Today, he appointed a diverse group of members from across the country to the council, each with a long history of fighting for clean air, clean water, and justice. Now, they will get to share their perspectives and ideas with the White House and across the federal government.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on vulnerable communities because of the legacies and impacts of historic environmental, social, and economic racism. African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans have been much more likely than their white counterparts to die from COVID-19 as a result of underlying health conditions from poor nutrition, poor air quality, unsafe and inadequate housing, lack of access to health care, and other factors.
President Biden’s American Rescue Plan will help us beat the pandemic and address these environmental injustices. It will cut child poverty in half and expand affordable health care access. In addition, it includes key allocations that directly address environmental injustice:
- $50 million for the Environmental Protection Agency to help monitor air quality, especially in communities facing a disproportionate burden of pollution and disease. These funds will help EPA better target resources and track progress so communities with the highest pollution can access triple the number of community health jobs, which will be created to support cleaner air and healthier environments.
- $500 million to the Department of Health and Human Services to create a Low-Income Household Drinking Water and Wastewater Emergency Assistance Program, providing funding to states to help low-income households and families pay their water bills.
- $4.5 billion to the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program at HHS to help families pay their energy bills so they can keep their homes heated in the winter and cooler in the summer. These funds are truly a matter of life or death, as we have recently witnessed both ice storms and heat waves of increasing intensity and frequency.
Over the coming weeks and months, President Biden, Vice President Harris, and our entire administration will take steps to right historic wrongs while combating the climate crisis.
As we recover from the pandemic, environmental justice is and must be a cornerstone of our efforts. We will build our country and economy back better, and we will put equity and justice in the center of our decision-making every step of the way.
Gina McCarthy, National Climate Advisor
Dr. Cecilia Martinez, Senior Director for Environmental Justice, White House Council on Environmental Quality