WASHINGTON, D.C – U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Congresswoman Debra Haaland (D-NM) today introduced a new bill aimed at eliminating pollution that has disproportionately harmed communities of color, indigenous communities, and low-income communities over generations. The Environmental Justice Legacy Pollution Cleanup Act would invest $100 billion to clean up legacy pollution and would prohibit granting major source air pollution permits in vulnerable communities already suffering harm from high levels of air pollution.
In the United States, pollution is not evenly distributed. Communities of color, indigenous communities, and low-income communities disproportionately bear the burden of high levels of air pollution, contaminated drinking water, and proximity to toxic waste sites. For example, according to reports, African Americans are 54% more likely to live in areas of heavy air pollution, and poor communities are 35% more likely.
Additionally, studies have shown that living near toxic waste sites can lead to higher rates of cancer, greater likelihoods of birth defects and autism, and countless other avoidable illnesses. With three out of five African Americans living close to toxic waste sites, they are also three times more likely to die prematurely from exposure to fine particulate matter air pollution. There is also compelling evidence from recent scientific research that communities with higher levels of air pollution have significantly higher levels of coronavirus infections, hospital admissions, and deaths.
Many environmental justice communities lack the basic resources most Americans take for granted: one in eight Native Americans lacks reliable access to water, and Black families are twice as likely as white families to live without modern plumbing. Black children are nearly three times more likely than white children to have unsafe blood lead levels.
“In our nation, the biggest determining factor of whether you live near toxic pollution, whether you drink contaminated water, or whether you breathe dirty air is the color of your skin and your economic status,” said Senator Booker. “That’s wrong, and it’s time to make it right. In order for communities of color, low-income communities, and indigenous communities to thrive, this legacy of pollution must be eliminated. The Environmental Justice Legacy Pollution Cleanup Act will be a big step forward in continuing the fight for true equality and addressing environmental injustices in our country.”
“Our communities deserve clean water, land, and air, but polluters and lack of oversight have left many families to suffer from illness and risks caused by environmental hazards for generations. In my own Pueblo of Laguna, I know families who have to haul water because theirs is contaminated. We must honor the earth and protect our resources so everyone’s quality of life is better. The bill Senator Cory Booker and I are introducing will not only clean up pollution in communities suffering from long term impacts, it will stop polluters from taking advantage of communities of color and areas living in poverty for future generations,” said Congresswoman Deb Haaland, who is also the lead of the THRIVE Agenda, a bold plan for economic renewal that incorporates environmental justice.
“I applaud Senator Booker for sponsoring meaningful environmental justice legislation that protects our human right to safe affordable drinking water, provides funding to clean up legacy pollution, and prohibits new major source air pollution permits in frontline communities,” said Kim Gaddy, environmental justice organizer, New Jersey Clean Water Action. “In communities like Newark, we suffer from cumulative and adverse harms caused by high levels of air pollution each and every day.”
“Environmental degradation caused by decades of strategic disinvestment and legacy pollution is disproportionately present in Black, Latino/a and low-income communities,” said Peggy Shepard, Co-founder & Executive Director, WE ACT for Environmental Justice. “Regulation has not made a difference and enforcement has not brought the accountability needed to improve the quality of life where we live, work and play. We need bold, equitable and curative responses to the years of decision-making that created sacrifice zones within our communities. The Environmental Justice Legacy Pollution Cleanup Act is a start at building healthy communities for all.”
"Appalachian communities continue to bear the brunt of coal's polluting legacy, with tens of billions of dollars worth of remaining environmental cleanup needs in the region,” said Thom Kay, Senior Legislative Representative for Appalachian Voices. “The good news is that reclaiming and repurposing polluted sites provides immediate jobs in these communities where they are needed most. We need bold policies to carry the region into a future of economic resilience and shared prosperity, and Senator Booker's bill rises to that challenge."
“Senator Booker and Representative Haaland confront the racial injustice of corporate polluters harming mostly Black and Brown communities with this bill,” said Monique Harden, Assistant Director of Law and Policy, Deep South Center for Environmental Justice. “The Environmental Justice Legacy Pollution Cleanup Act would reduce toxic air pollution in Louisiana's Cancer Alley and other overburdened communities by prohibiting the issuance and re-issuance of an environmental permit that allows a facility to annually release 20,000 pounds or more of hazardous air pollution. This is a step in the right direction for environmental justice, public health, and climate action.”
“We need solutions as big as the problems we face — and this bill will rightly confront the environmental injustices plaguing communities of Color and neighborhoods our leaders have treated as national sacrifice zones,” said Mustafa Santiago Ali, Vice President of environmental justice, climate, and community revitalization, National Wildlife Federation. “The Senate should swiftly take up this landmark legislation, which will create good paying jobs while addressing systemic racism and historic injustices nationwide.”
"The majority of Superfund sites of contamination are on tribal and public lands. It is in the interest of Native peoples and all people that investments are made now to remediate these sites and begin the process of healing our collective lands before it is too late for Mother Earth." Judith LeBlanc, Director of Native Organizers Alliance.
Senator Booker’s Environmental Justice Legacy Pollution Cleanup Act would:
Throughout his time in the Senate, Sen. Booker has extensively worked on and passed environmental justice legislation. In 2019, Booker re-introduced the Environmental Justice Act that requires federal agencies to mitigate environmental injustices through agency action and strengthens the legal protections of those affected by environmental injustices. Additionally, that same year, he introduced and passed into law the Water Infrastructure Funding Transfer Act that gave states facing a threat to public health from lead in drinking water the flexibility to make a one-time transfer of the federal funds in their Clean Water State Revolving Fund to their Drinking Water State Revolving Fund for projects that will remove lead from drinking water.
The full text of the Environmental Justice Legacy Pollution Cleanup Act is available here.
As Vice Chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, Rep. Haaland has worked to address environmental racism and fight climate change. She is the lead on theTHRIVE Agenda which lays out the unifying principles necessary to build a society that enables dignified work; increased racial, economic, gender, and environmental justice; healthy communities; and a stable climate. The THRIVE agenda is built on eight pillars, which span from creating millions of good, safe jobs with access to unions to averting climate catastrophe while investing in Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities. Last year, Haaland co-led a field hearing on oil and gas development impacts on air quality, public health, and sacred sites which led to the introduction of the the American Public Lands and Waters Climate Solution Act, which directs the Department of the Interior (DOI) and the United States Forest Service (USFS) to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions from public lands and waters by 2040.