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December 31, 2017

ABA applauds introduction of environmental justice bills

The ABA expressed support last month for introduction of legislation in the Senate and House aimed at strengthening environmental justice.

In a Nov. 16 letter to Senate bill sponsor Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), ABA President Hilarie Bass applauded Booker’s commitment to environmental equality by making his bill, S. 1996, the Environmental Justice Act of 2017, one of his top priorities in the 115th Congress.

The legislation, introduced in the House as H.R. 4114 by Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.), would require air and water permitting decisions to consider the cumulative impact to vulnerable communities and would clarify citizens’ right to sue, which Bass said would help “remove barriers to justice for victims of manmade environmental disasters.”

Vulnerable populations − such as indigenous communities, communities of color, and low-income populations − are more likely to be located near hazardous sites and exposed to toxins, Bass explained. “Achieving environmental justice would result in the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards for all people and equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn and work,” she said.

The legislation’s provisions include:

●codifying and expanding the 1994 Executive Order on Environmental Justice, which focused federal attention on the environmental and human health impact of federal actions on minority and low-income communities;

●codifying the existing National Environmental Justice Advisory Council and environmental justice grant programs;

●establishing requirements for federal agencies to follow when addressing environmental justice;

●clarifying that communities impacted by environmental crises may bring statutory claims for damages and common law claims in addition to requesting injunctive relief; and

●reinstating a private right of action for discriminatory practices under the Civil Rights Act.

Booker emphasized in a press release that the bill would provide disadvantaged communities “with legal tools to protect their rights.” He added, “We cannot have social justice or economic justice without environmental justice.”