Chair Grijalva, Rep. McEachin Lead Letter From 43 House Democrats to Congressional Leaders Urging Environmental Justice Support in COVID-19 Response

Washington, D.C. – Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Rep. A. Donald McEachin (D-Va.) today sent a letter signed by 41 of their House Democratic colleagues to House and Senate leaders of both parties urging them, as they craft current and future COVID-19 response efforts, to account for underlying and already present health and economic disparities across the country.

In the letter, available at https://bit.ly/2WSnRqF, the authors write in part:

The effects of COVID-19 are being felt across the country, but they are particularly acute in communities with underlying health conditions. We are concerned that environmental justice communities – low-income communities, communities of color, and Tribal and indigenous communities – across the U.S. and in the U.S. territories are especially vulnerable and live in areas that lack the necessary resources to fully recover from the pandemic.

As they note, members of environmental justice communities are more likely to be exposed to pollution that can cause other health problems, such as cancer and asthma, and are at greater than average risk of lacking health care coverage.

The authors urge Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to make sure future relief bills address social equity issues that have so far gone ignored by Congress. Among other issues, the lawmakers highlight:

  • the need for a moratorium on water shutoffs for residential buildings, and $100 million to restore residential water services that have been disconnected;
  • the need to support zero emissions transportation options that would have an immediate positive health impact in high-asthma, low-income communities;
  • the need for more funding for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Justice Small Grants Program, which provides grants to communities to address environmental risks associated with high concentrations of pollution;
  • the need for more funding for Superfund and EPA Brownfield Program cleanups, which would improve public health and increase economic reconstruction opportunities for heavily polluted communities, many of which are at greater risk of immunocompromise;
  • the need for $30 billion for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund and the Clean Water State Revolving Fund to support investments in infrastructure and programs that are essential to providing safe and affordable drinking water to communities, protecting water systems, managing waste- and stormwater, building climate resilience, and expanding economic opportunities for low-income communities and communities of color; and
  • the importance of safeguards to ensure that funding for programs is spent in a way that complies with environmental regulations to avoid increasing health and safety risks.

The letter builds on Chair Grijalva and Congressman McEachin’s recently introduced Environmental Justice for All Act, which comprehensively addresses long-standing environmental inequities that harm communities of color, low-income communities, and Tribal and indigenous communities across the country.

The COVID-19 relief bill set for a House vote on Friday includes $900 million for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which helps reduce heating and cooling bills for low-income households, and $5 billion in Community Development Block Grants, which are expected to help more than 1,200 states, cities and counties respond to COVID-19. Those increases are consistent with the principles of today’s letter and provide a baseline on which future assistance measures can build.

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