July 29, 2019

Harris, Ocasio-Cortez Announce Landmark Legislation to Ensure Green New Deal Lifts Up Every Community

Climate Equity Act will hold government accountable to interests of communities who have faced historic, systemic environmental injustice 

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) and U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14) on Monday announced the Climate Equity Act, a draft legislative proposal to ensure that the United States government makes communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis the foundation of policy related to climate and the environment, including the policies to build a Green New Deal. To that end, frontline community leaders will have an opportunity to provide feedback on this legislative proposal prior to its formal introduction this fall.

At its core, a Green New Deal must be based on three principles: First, fighting climate change by ending the use of fossil fuels; second, building a clean economy with good jobs of the 21st century, and third, ensuring that no community gets left behind.

The Climate Equity Act is a legislative proposal to achieve that third key principle of justice for frontline communities to guarantee that the policies comprising a future Green New Deal protect the health and economic wellbeing of all Americans for generations to come.

“Frontline communities” are those that have experienced systemic socioeconomic disparities, environmental racism, and other forms of injustice, including low-income communities, indigenous peoples, and communities of color. As the climate crisis continues, these communities and others, including deindustrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, vulnerable elderly populations, unhoused populations, and people with disabilities—and the women, youth, and future generations belonging to these communities—will also bear the brunt of the climate crisis.

“Climate change is an existential threat—it’s critical we act now to achieve a cleaner, safer, and healthier future. But it is not enough to simply cut emissions and end our reliance on fossil fuels. We must ensure that communities already contending with unsafe drinking water, toxic air, and lack of economic opportunity are not left behind,” said Sen. Harris. “We need a Green New Deal based in climate and environmental justice, which means building a clean economy that protects communities that have been neglected by policymakers for far too long. I’m proud to work with Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez on this comprehensive proposal, and I’m hopeful that it brings a Green New Deal closer to reality.”

“Climate change represents not only the greatest threat to our species, but one of our greatest economic opportunities,” said Rep. Ocasio-Cortez. “The Climate Equity Act ensures that as we go forward to solve our climate crisis, we are focusing on communities most impacted by the crisis and the transition to renewable energy.”

The Climate Equity Act holds the government accountable to frontline communities when it considers a policy, regulation, or investment with a climate or environmental nexus—which could broadly include direct policies to address the environment and climate change, but also transportation, housing, infrastructure, jobs, workforce development, and more.

Specifically, the legislation will:

Hold Congress Accountable

  • Require that environmental and climate-related legislation receive an equity score that will transparently estimate the impact on frontline communities.
    • The equity score will be modeled after the economic scores provided by the Congressional Budget Office, will be developed in consultation with experts and leaders from frontline communities, and will be updated periodically.

Hold the Executive Branch Accountable

  • Require that environmental and climate-related rules and regulations that have significant impact on frontline communities undergo an additional level of review. This review will aim to mitigate negative impacts, maximize benefits, and bring representatives from frontline communities into the regulatory review process.
  • Require that environmental and climate-related federal grant-making and investment programs undergo review to ensure that frontline communities benefit.

Give Advocates & Stakeholders a Seat at the Table

  • Establish an independent Office of Climate and Environmental Justice Accountability to represent the views of frontline communities in rulemaking by bringing those communities into the rulemaking process, conduct research on issues and trends in frontline communities, measure the costs of regulations on frontlines communities, and monitor government compliance.
  • Establish a new position of Senior Advisor for Climate and Environmental Justice at all relevant agencies to ensure compliance and coordination between the relevant agency and the Office of Climate and Environmental Justice Accountability.
  • Ensure that representatives of frontline communities are at the table during the review of rules and regulations, providing insights and comments on how to minimize negative impacts and maximize benefits of rules and regulations on frontline communities.

Because the Climate Equity Act aims to establish accountability for justice and equity impacts of federal climate and environmental actions, frontline leaders from the most impacted communities should, and will, have a seat at the table in formulating the CEA itself. Before its formal introduction this fall, advocates from frontline communities and their allies will have an opportunity to provide public feedback on this draft legislation to ensure that together we build the strongest policy possible.

For further background, click here.

For the full draft legislative proposal, click here.