Regulatory Developments, Special Topics in Environmental Management

What Is the Environmental Justice for All Act?

The Environmental Justice for All Act was introduced in the U.S. Senate on June 30, 2020.

Environmental Policy, Law

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“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,” according to Lexology. “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.”

The bill was introduced by Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kamala Harris (D-CA), and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL).

Policies regarding environmental equality and justice have gained traction, particularly among Democrats, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID has brought an awareness to the fact that “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,” according to Lexology.

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, according to The National Law Review.

The general consensus is that the bill currently stands little chance of passing, particularly on the heels of the finalization of the overhaul of the regulations controlling the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by President Donald Trump’s administration on July 15, 2020.

“The regulatory overhaul seeks to shorten both the environmental review process and the physical length of environmental reviews themselves,” according to Greenberg Traurig’s E2 Law Blog. “The rule has been lauded by some as providing much-needed efficiency, and there is little doubt that there is room to improve the often-Kafkaesque federal bureaucratic processes involved in federal environmental reviews. But others have criticized the rule as seeking to limit public comments and forestalling the robust environmental reviews that predominate large federal infrastructure projects.”

Those large infrastructure projects often impact communities of color—those areas in need of environmental justice. Some believe the “rule seeks to limit the role those communities have in how their neighborhoods are developed,” according to the E2 Law Blog. “Environmental advocacy groups immediately questioned the legality of the rule and suggested that a court challenge will be forthcoming.”

On the same day, the final NEPA rule was announced, and Democratic presidential candidate Joseph Biden “outlined an environmental policy that would roll back President Trump’s environmental reforms, invest trillions in clean energy and transportation, and set aggressive emissions goals, including emissions-free power by 2035,” according to the E2 Law Blog.

This announcement reveals the potential for many reversals in environmental policies should the Democratic party emerge victorious in the coming fall elections.