We’ve been thinking about Environmental Justice this Earth Day–both what it is and how to achieve it. It’s clear we need systemic change to reach our climate goals, and that we’ve run out of time for anything but bold action from our leaders. You can scroll down to take immediate action for Environmental Justice, or read on to learn more about what it means, and how we can all be a part of the solution!
What does Environmental Justice mean?
Environmental Justice is a term being used a lot lately. But what, exactly, does it mean? The Environmental Protection Agency has a definition it uses when it takes Environmental Justice into consideration in its policies. The EPA says Environmental Justice means “fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.”
To us, environmental justice starts with the understanding that communities where Black, Brown and Indigenous people are living, as well as low-income communities, are often the most hard-hit by pollution, fossil fuel infrastructure damage, and climate disasters. These tend to be the people who have done the least to cause the climate crisis but are affected the worst. As we move away from a fossil fuel energy-based society and toward a renewable energy future, these wrongs must be righted and no one can be left behind.
The Only Way Forward
We all know we have to transition our world to a renewable energy society in order to survive climate change. But unless we make sure not to leave anyone behind, there’s no way that can happen. Why? Because until recently environmental justice was not considered when laws were put in place to regulate pollution or fossil fuel development, so there was always a place where it was “OK” to look the other way. Black, Brown and Indigenous (also known as BIPOC) communities who are on the front lines have traditionally been treated less fairly as decisions were made about where to pollute or build.
Families displaced by Hurricane Katrina, historically black communities in Virginia threatened by natural gas pipelines and infrastructure, Indigenous communities in North Dakota torn apart by the Dakota Access Pipeline, and children whose health has been compromised by tainted drinking water in Flint MI are just a few of the sad stories that highlight a lack of care by our government when it comes to environmental infrastructure regulations and environmental disaster response.
Indigenous communities gather to protect sacred land from the Dakota Access Pipeline
If laws and policies aren’t in place to help everyone benefit equally from the renewable energy transition, and to prevent BIPOC and low-income communities from being used as dumping grounds, then there will always be a place that big companies think it’s OK to pollute, and places where climate disasters can be ignored. This will prevent us from doing the truly bold, necessary work of systemic change to fight the climate crisis.
Policies must be created to center environmental justice, in addition to regulating greenhouse emissions and stopping fossil fuel development. There cannot be people who it’s OK to harm or communities where it’s OK to poison the water with lead, frack natural gas, build a pipeline and destroy ancestral land, or spew asthma-causing or cancer-causing toxins in the air. If environmental justice is part of the equation, then big companies will simply need to find another, cleaner way.
A Better Way: The Just Transition
Just Transition is another term that you may have heard a lot recently, and it is a critical ideal to consider when you look at climate legislation or any of the flood of new policies that are being introduced right now. We must always keep pushing our leaders to ensure that no one is left behind in this transition to a renewable energy society.
That includes not only Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, but also people whose jobs and lives may be upended by this transition. Coal workers are the obvious example, but so many people depend on industries and jobs that must be phased out if we want humanity to survive.
As a solar company, this concept of a just transition is integral to our daily work. Our industry is one that holds responsibility and promise for the future, and the jobs our industry creates are one of the keys to a just transition. For that reason, we were so happy to see the Solar Energy Industry Association introduce its Environmental Justice Platform this week.
The platform, released formally as the Solar Industry Policy Principles on Environmental Justice & Equity, includes input from members, diversity professionals, policy experts, and conversations with numerous environmental justice organizations and experts. The document lays out policies that expand access to clean energy and create industry jobs and workforce development training. It includes possible tax, climate, energy access and labor policies that build on SEIA’s ongoing commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and justice throughout the solar value chain.
The policy platform focuses on the following areas:
- Utilizing solar to expand access to low-cost clean energy;
- Providing career pathways to underserved communities;
- Leveraging government procurement and infrastructure to create economic opportunity for low-income communities;
- Tax policies and programs that remove barriers to access financing for rooftop solar;
- Climate resilience and disaster preparedness programs that include onsite solar, storage, other electricity resilience measures;
- Siting and permitting processes for large-scale renewable energy projects that are conducted in consultation with impacted communities;
- Clean energy curricula for K-12, trade/technical/vocational schools, community colleges, and higher education, with an emphasis on HBCUs, tribal colleges and other minority-serving institutions; and
- Fostering environmental justice expertise in agencies with jurisdiction over energy, climate and environmental policy.
What Can You Do? Take Action!
Federal lawmakers are introducing a slew of climate-and-jobs bills right now, and President Biden is talking about the concept of environmental justice as central to his plan to rebuild our country. We all have a role to play in this transition. It is critically important that we all keep pushing our leaders to co-sign good bills and to think and act boldly.
To that end, here is a list of new federal legislation and resolutions that would help create the systemic change we need to lift us all to a brighter future. Please contact your legislators to ask them to support these bills and resolutions today!
Environmental Justice For All Act
This bill offers a series of concrete measures aimed to address environmental injustice. It is the culmination of years of research and fact-gathering as well as a robust and inclusive process spearheaded by environmental justice leaders who represent some of the very communities this bill is meant to support. If passed and enforced properly, it would significantly strengthen environmental protection for communities that face disproportionate pollution burdens.
Among other improvements, the bill would:
- Enable residents or groups to sue in court for projects that use federal funds or resources and engage in environmental discrimination.
- Strengthen the National Environmental Policy Act, requiring federal agencies to consider the views of Black, brown and indigenous communities impacted by disproportionate pollution when permitting decisions are being made for new projects.
- Create a fund using new fees on oil, gas and coal industries to aid communities that are transitioning from greenhouse-gas dependent industries.
- Direct federal agencies to create a working group on environmental justice compliance and enforcement and develop environmental justice strategies and annually report on implementation.
- Require federal agencies to seek Tribal government input in the NEPA process, and to ensure that Indian Tribes be invited to serve as cooperating agencies for proposed actions that might impact their reservation lands and sacred sites.
- Codify an existing grant program to ensure more equitable access to parks and recreational opportunities, prioritizing projects and recreational opportunities that benefit underserved urban communities
Take Action! Call the Congressional switchboard at (202) 224-3121. Tell them your address and they’ll connect you to your Senator or Congressperson’s office, where you can speak to a staffer and let them know you’d like them to support the bill.
Sponsors include Sens. Ed Markey and Jeff Merkley, and Reps. Debbie Dingell, Ilhan Omar, Jamaal Bowman, Pramila Jayapal, Earl Blumenauer, Ro Khanna, Yvette Clarke, and Nanette Barragán.
The Thrive Act is a transformational economic recovery and infrastructure package that puts 15 million people to work in good, union, family-sustaining jobs, cuts climate pollution in half by 2030, and advances racial, Indigenous, gender, environmental, and economic justice. The THRIVE Act puts forth a bold investment package where impacted communities play a leading role in building a more just economy.
The THRIVE Act includes:
- Investments of at least $1 trillion per year for FY 2022-2031. New economic modeling shows that this is the scale of investment we need to create more than 15 million good jobs and end the unemployment crisis, while cutting climate pollution in half by 2030 and confronting systemic racism and gender, economic, and environmental injustice. A large percentage of these investments are for frontline communities.
- A commitment to honoring frontline leadership, respecting Indigenous sovereignty, ensuring jobs created by the Act meet high-road labor standards and boost workers’ rights to form a union, ensuring fairness for workers and communities affected by economic transitions, investment in public institutions that enable workers and communities to thrive.
- Authorizes the necessary spending to meet ambitious climate targets, including the emissions reductions necessary to stay below 1.5 degrees of global warming; 100% clean energy by 2035, 100% zero-emission new buildings by 2025; and putting the majority of Americans within walking distance of high-quality, affordable, clean public transit by 2030
Green New Deal Resolution and Civilian Climate Corps
Sponsored by Senator Markey and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Yesterday, Ocasio-Cortez and Markey held a press conference to reintroduce the Green New Deal Resolution and introduce the Civilian Climate Corps (CCC) bill. With President Biden endorsing the idea of a CCC, this bill helps put the idea into policy and action.
The CCC bill creates an expanded, improved, and justice-focused Civilian Climate Corps (CCC), which will employ a diverse group of 1.5 million Americans in five years to complete clean energy, climate resilience, environmental remediation, conservation, and sustainable infrastructure projects, while providing education, training, and career pathways in good union jobs, in close partnership with labor organizations. The CCC will provide a $15 minimum wage, ensure mandatory health and educational benefits for participants, and foregrounds racial justice and Tribal sovereignty protections. Read more about the bill here.
The Green New Deal Resolution, which would be an expression of congressional sentiment rather than a law, says that it’s the government’s duty to create a Green New Deal that can be accomplished through a 10-year national mobilization. It calls for meeting the country’s power demand through zero-emission energy sources and “overhauling” transportation to remove pollution through investing in zero-emission vehicles, public transit and high-speed rail. Learn more about the GND on the Sunrise Movement website. Read the GND resolution text here. And read more about the press conference here.
Take Action! Click this link, or you can call the Congressional switchboard at (202) 224-3121. Tell them your address and they’ll connect you to your Senator or Congressperson’s office, where you can speak to a staffer and let them know you’d like them to support the bills.
As always, we’re so grateful to our Ipsun Family for taking the time to support important issues and pushing our leaders to always strive for bold action. You’re our climate heroes!
Please amplify your voice by sharing this with your friends and encouraging them to take action too!