On July 30, Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kamala Harris (D-CA), and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) unveiled the “The Environmental Justice for All Act.”

The bill proposes a finding that communities of color, low-income communities, tribal communities, and other vulnerable populations, such as children, elderly, and persons with disabilities, are disproportionately burdened by environmental hazards. The premise of the bill is that all people have a right to breathe clean air, drink clean water, and live free of dangerous levels of environmental pollution, irrespective of their race, national origin, or income level.

If passed, the bill would authorize regulators to consider cumulative impacts in permitting decisions under the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act; authorize $75 million to support projects to address environmental and public health issues; require greater community involvement in agency decision making; and amend the Civil Rights Act to allow private citizens and organizations that experience discrimination in environmental programs to seek legal remedies.

The same bill, H.R. 5986, was introduced in the House earlier this year by Rep. Grijalva (D-AZ). Considering that the recent NEPA re-write eliminates agency responsibility to consider cumulative impacts, the chance of passage of these bills is slim (See July 20 E2 Law Blog Post). However, the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has brought a new focus on environmental justice and how multiple routes of environmental exposure compound health impacts within communities of color, resulting in a higher mortality rate among people of color who contract COVID-19. As such, environmental justice issues may well remain a priority for Democrat leadership in the U.S. House and Senate.