Front Line groups call on Congress to put environmental justice first in federal Build Back Better bill

opens in a new windowFront Line groups call on Congress to put environmental justice first in federal Build Back Better bill / Insider NJ / 10/29/2021

On the ninth anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, leaders from NJ THRIVES, a coalition of grassroots groups at the front lines of climate change, sent letters to members of New Jersey’s congressional delegation calling on our state’s elected representatives to stand firm on commitments to provide real climate solutions that focus on environmental justice and solutions for frontline communities as Congress takes up President Biden’s Build Back Better bill.


The bill would spend up to $2 trillion addressing critical needs, from climate change to care.
Yet the groups argued that any final climate and environmental bill must focus on front-line communities by including five key pillars to ensure equity.


“As we saw yesterday the fossil fuel industry is set on keeping their profits high at the cost of the climate provisions in the bill. The flooding from Ida showed us that things have not gotten better since Sandy. We need our elected officials to stand with the people and center environmental justice and help us build a just future for our families,” said Melissa Miles, the Executive Director of the New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance


“As Congress debates a historic investment in jobs, care, and our future, it is essential that resources be channeled to front-line communities already living with the impacts of climate change and to create jobs building a clean energy future,” said Amanda Devecka-Rinear, Executive Director of the New Jersey Organizing Project. “Families are still working their way back home, 9 years after Sandy destroyed our communities. Ida showed us that flooding can happen anywhere – not just at the shore – and we have to be better prepared for the future we face.”


“The Build Back Better Act represents a once in a generation opportunity to address generations of environmental racism by investing in cities like Newark and addressing looming environmental threats, from climate change to lead water pipes,” said Kim Gaddy, Founder and Director of the South Ward Environmental Alliance. “We need our legislative leadership advocating for solutions that put communities of color at the forefront.”


The letters, which came from six groups, asked that any final deal include the following components:


Superfund Sites. Communities living in, around or downstream from Superfund sites need adequate funding to finally tackle the toxic legacy of our state’s industrial past. The communities need to be able to hire their own experts who will side with them and hold corporate polluters accountable. We have an opportunity to transform our neighborhoods by cleaning up these sites, but to do that we need the help of the federal government.


Community mitigation. Even with an aggressive clean energy agenda, we know that our world is locked into patterns of sea level rise and increasingly severe storms. While there has been much discussion about hardening our power plants, roads and bridges from these impacts, it is equally important that we invest in our neighbors to ensure that they can handle increased risks of flooding and have the opportunity to relocate, if they choose to.


Ensuring frontline and impacted communities can impact provisions. Clean and renewable energy programs have historically been inaccessible to low-income households and urban residents. We need to make sure that these historic investments are leveraged in ways that benefit all people in New Jersey – particularly those who have been the targets of systemic racism and other forms of exclusion.


Clean energy must be truly clean. While there is much debate about what federal clean energy programs may emerge from any final bill, it is essential that federal policy not reward industries, like nuclear and waste-to-energy incinerators, that are not truly clean. These facilities represent continued hazards for nearby communities, particularly communities of color.


Housing reinvestments should be a critical part of any infrastructure bill. Components of the Build Back Better package represent critical steps towards solidifying housing for millions of Americans. Housing needs have grown for many Americans so creating more affordable housing and preserving existing housing should be mandatory. Eviction filings across the country are at an all time high so innovative approaches to housing will ensure COVID – 19 recovery will not lead to massive homelessness.


“Communities that have suffered for generations under environmental racism and systemic disinvestment have a once in a lifetime opportunity to receive justice under this bill,” said Maria Lopez-Nunez, Director of Environmental Justice and Community Development at Ironbound Community Corporation. “We cannot afford to squander this opportunity, and we want to work with our elected leaders to get the strongest deal possible.”


“FSHC stands squarely with our partners in THRIVE. Our number priority is that Housing is included as a critical part of recovery, either through preservation and creating new housing. We want New Jersey to THRIVE. “ James Williams, Director of Racial Justice Policy at Fair Share Housing Center.


At the same time, the THRIVE members called on Congress to reject false solutions, like trash incineration and fossil fuel subsidies, that are driven by powerful corporations but will fail to revitalize communities or deliver on promised environmental goals.


Democrats in Congress are hoping to send a final bill to President Biden for his signature in the coming weeks.

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