WASHINGTON (CN) — Gustavo Angeles says environmental justice is a hard concept for many to understand.
“It’s not seen,” the program coordinator for Virginia’s Chapter of the Sierra Club said Tuesday in a phone interview.
It means gazing past the air and water permits a developer might get from public authorities to what that means life near proposed projects.
“They don’t look at the health impacts these facilities have, and the disproportionate impact these facilities have,” said Angeles, whose work to stop two natural gas projects planned for Virginia's swampy central region involves organizing the mostly low-income and minority citizens of rural Charles City County.
Once construction starts, it can feel too late to fight back: Residents are encouraged not to worry about dirty air and water but to instead focus on the economic promise.
“The counties tell people the projects are done; there’s nothing to be done about it,” he said.
“But when you start looking, you’ll see the money is not really there,” he added. “The county has to put in new roads or upgrade services that will be used by these facilities.”
Angeles is hoping that might change, however, thanks to steps being taken at the state level and on Capitol Hill.
“We’re here to take a bold step with climate action now with this congressional plan,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Tuesday morning, unveiling the 500-page Action Plan for a Clean Energy Economy and a Healthy and Just America.
In addition to protecting those who have long been ignored, Pelosi said the plan will fight climate change and also grow the economy.
“And it champions ... environmental justice and tackles systemic racism by reducing pollution and empowering leaders from communities who are disproportionately impacted,” she added.
Industry groups predictably are less thrilled by the effort, saying the reality of climate change must be addressed in the short term with “cleaner fuels and innovation.”
“Now more than ever, we need bipartisan policy solutions to reduce the risks of climate change that do not force a false choice between protecting the environment and growing the U.S. economy,” Frank J. Macchiarola, a policy expert for American Petroleum Institute, said in a statement Tuesday. “We can do both.”
Macchiarola noted that Pelosi’s plan lacks of support from every Republican member of the committee.
Details on the environmental justice sections of the plan include directing Congress and federal agencies to consult with communities “early and often” when drafting policies, while also strengthening environmental law enforcement and creating a private right of action for citizens to file civil suits when they are disparately affected by pollution.
Congressman Don McEachin, whose district includes the areas Angeles is trying to support, is among the sponsors of the plan.
“People are taking to the streets, demanding this country lives up to its promise of justice for all,” the congressman said during the morning press event. “For too long the federal government has turned a blind eye to the communities we’re discussing today. ... We cannot accept this reality any longer.”
In Charles City County, Angeles noted that one of the biggest issues for residents is facing is a lack of communication. He said the sooner the Democrats’ plan can take effect, the better.
“We’re looking forward to this,” he said of the plan. “The communities here in Virginia are suffering, and there are a lot of places around the country who will benefit.”
The plan was developed by the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, created in early 2019, and was the product of a year-long listening and research effort. Pelosi also promised the plan, if associated legislation is passed, would put the county back on track to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement which aims to reduce the harm of climate change worldwide.
“We’re still in it,” she said.Follow @@BradKutner
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