What Elizabeth Warren Environmental Justice Plan Are We Going To Debunk Tod... Wait
Elizabeth Warren is out with another of her darn plans, this time a proposal to pursue environmental justice as part of her overall commitment to fighting climate change. This is the seventh Warren policy proposal to touch on some aspect of addressing the climate crisis, and she vows to devote at least a third of federal climate funding to communities that have been screwed over by the fossil fuel economy. That's roughly a trillion dollars over ten years. Warren would make sure those communities that have borne the brunt of our messed-up climate have a say in how the cleanups and the green manufacturing of tomorrow will go forward -- a topic she brought up while visiting voters in Charleston, South Carolina, yesterday.
The timing of the new plan coincides with California's biggest electric utility, Pacific Gas & Electric, choosing to cause a huge blackout because its antiquated equipment and grid risk sparking wildfires. PG&E's crappy management and haphazard maintenance caused multiple California wildfires in recent years, made worse by the climate change caused by burning coal and oil for electricity for a century. More and more parts of the country can look forward to that kind of disruption becoming the norm.
Quick, somebody tell us we can't afford clean energy.
Warren isn't alone, of course; other candidates, particularly Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, and Bernie Sanders, have been talking environmental justice too, particularly former candidate Jay Inslee, whose climate policy plan Warren has adopted as a blueprint. It's reassuring to see that climate justice is central to so many Democrats' thinking, not just an outlier. It's a central part of the Green New Deal resolution.
The proposal starts with some background on the basic unfairness we're up against:
From predominantly black neighborhoods in Detroit to Navajo communities in the southwest to Louisiana's Cancer Alley, industrial pollution has been concentrated in low-income communities for decades - communities that the federal government has tacitly written off as so-called "sacrifice zones." But it's not just about poverty, it's also about race. A seminal study found that black families are more likely to live in neighborhoods with higher concentrations of air pollution than white families - even when they have the same or more income. A more recent study found that while whites largely cause air pollution, Blacks and Latinxs are more likely to breathe it in. Unsurprisingly, these groups also experience higher rates of childhood asthma.
For anyone who believes capitalism is about responsibility, Warren says, it's damn well time we make sure those who have been damaged by the fossil fuel economy get their due: We can't keep socializing the costs of oil and coal while privatizing the profits. And since we have to fundamentally remake our energy economy to save civilization (the planet will be fine, we may be fucked), how about we make that economy work for everyone. Here, have a chart:
To that end, Warren would beef up legal and regulatory measures for environmental justice that already exist in federal law, but which haven't been taken very seriously by previous administrations -- and which Donald Trump's wrecking crew has sought to defund and eliminate altogether. Warren would make sure that considerations of climate and environmental justice are at the top of every action the federal government takes. It's sort of a virtuous spin on the Trump administration's attempts to ensure that every aspect of government be enlisted into either pleasing his base, hurting immigrants, or making Trump and his friends money (and if possible all of the above).
For just one example, Warren foregrounds Jay Inslee's plan to retrofit four percent of US buildings for full energy efficiency every year for the next 25 years. The very first communities to get those funds should be the ones that were redlined, disrupted by freeway building and "urban renewal" in the '60s and '70s, and used as dumping grounds for the detritus of the collapse of the manufacturing economy as corporations moved steel and other heavy industries offshore. Not only will people get help with greener homes, that's also going to create a hell of a lot of construction jobs -- which should go to people in the community, just as coal and oil workers should be targeted for training and transition into clean energy jobs -- at good union pay rates.
And how about some Medicare for All, because the communities most likely to have been left behind in the changing economy are also likely to be sicker, have shittier infrastructure, and suffer from higher rates of pollution while having far lower health insurance coverage. It all fits together: While we're talking public health, Warren would also prioritize (and restore funding for) the Centers for Disease Control's "environmental health programs, such as childhood lead poisoning prevention, and community health investigations."
As for that "responsibility" piece, Warren has some ideas, like making sure the companies that got us here pay their fair share of the cleanup, and that bankruptcy laws be revised to make sure polluters can't escape responsibility. (She's looking not just at Exxon-Mobil, but yes, PG&E again.)
Not surprisingly, the Usual Suspects are framing this as the most horrendous socialism, aimed at the unworthy takers:
Actually, what it means is that the free ride for polluters has to end. The costs of cheap fuel and dirty manufacturing were disproportionally borne by people who didn't benefit. This isn't about handouts or welfare -- it's about compensation for very recent and ongoing damage. You know, like paying for a window you broke, only it's entire communities.
We won't even attempt to cover everything; instead, go read the plan. It's damned impressive. It's almost enough to make you think this country might have a chance at working again.
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