Rep. Raul Ruiz fights for environmental justice with Senator Cory Booker
Hispanic Caucus Chair Raul Ruiz is pressing forward with a new environmental justice initiative.
Rep Raul Ruiz (D-CA) is joining Senator Cory Booker (D-NY) to fight environmental injustices with a new piece of legislation that would require federal agencies to consider and mitigate environmental stressors that, by their own doing, impact the health and agency of those affected.
Led by Ruiz in Congress, the Environmental Justice Act of 2021 would make agencies consider the effects of cumulative impacts on communities during key decisions. Booker leads the companion bill in the U.S. Senate.
Ruiz’s bill would also require authorities to consider a facility’s history of violations when deciding to issue or renew a permit.
“Our government must offer equal protection from environmental health hazards, and provide equal access to decision making that affects the public’s health,” Ruiz said at a recent hearing held by the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change.
“Environmental injustices can look differently depending on the community — whether it’s low-income housing next to an interstate, or farmworker communities in desperate need of clean air and clean water,” Ruiz continued.
In his own district that encompasses the Coachella Valley, Ruiz referenced several instances where the bill would make a difference should it be implemented, from illegal dumps, where mulch fires sickened local school children, and mobile home communities, who get their drinking water from arsenic-tainted wells.
“True environmental justice means that our government is looking out for these communities with the same intensity as they would for those with money, access, and power,” Ruiz said.
For decades, lax environmental enforcement allowed environmental hazards to persist at the expense of my constituents. That is why I introduced the Environmental Justice Act of 2021 with @SenBooker.
— Raul Ruiz (@RepRaulRuizMD) April 16, 2021
The Environmental Justice Act of 2021 expands on a 1994 bill that focused federal attention on environmental and human health impacts of federal actions on BIPOC and low-income communities.
It ensures that The National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC) continues to convene and provide council on environmental issues to federal agencies, and that several important environmental justice grant programs, including Environmental Justice Small Grants and CARE grants, will continue to be conducted under federal law.
According to a press release by Ruiz, the bill will also establish requirements for federal agencies to address environmental justice. They will be tasked with implementing and annually updating a strategy to address negative stressors of environmental injustice to BIPOC and low-income communities.
The bill also assists federal agencies with their National Environmental Policy Act procedures to address environmental justice concerns. This will largely affect tribal treaty rights.
Ruiz’s bill also lays-out that communities impacted by events like the Flint water crisis may bring statutory claims for damages and common law claims to court. The bill also restores the right for individual citizens to bring legal actions under the Civil Rights Act.
The Environmental Justice Act of 2021 isn’t Ruiz’s first time tackling the nationwide issue. In the 117th Congress, he reintroduced the Voices for Environmental Justice Act with Rep. Nanette Barragán (D-CA) and Rep. Paul Tonko. It would provide funding for frontline communities to speak out against polluters seeking to “set-up shop” in their neighborhoods. It is also included in the Clean Future Act.
Recently Ruiz, Barragán, Rep. Raúl Grijalva, Senator Jeff Merkley and Senator Elizabeth Warren led 28 of their colleagues in asking Biden to order a shutdown of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
“This is a critical step towards righting the wrongs of the past and setting our nation on a path of environmental, climate, and social justice,” they wrote.