Sen. Kamala Harris and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez unveiled Monday a draft of their new climate justice legislation, which goal is to ensure that any measure to fight climate change and its effects benefits low-income communities and other vulnerable populations.
The Climate Equity Act, which the Democrats said will support the Green New Deal, will be formally introduced in the fall and constituents can offer feedback on the draft until then. “Climate change represents not only the greatest threat to our species, but one of our greatest economic opportunities,” Ocasio-Cortez said in a statement provided to Refinery29. “The Climate Equity Act ensures that as we go forward to solve our climate crisis, we are focusing on communities most impacted by the crisis and the transition to renewable energy.”
A November 2018 report commissioned by the U.S. government found that low-income communities in both rural and urban areas are disproportionally impacted by climate change. Experts concluded climate change will only worsen the inequalities these communities face, including higher rates of exposure to environmental hazards and more difficulties recovering from natural disasters.
The Climate Equity Act currently has two goals: holding Congress and the executive branch accountable, while giving advocates and other stakeholders a seat at the table. The legislation requires that any environmental and climate-related legislation at the congressional level receives a score estimating how it will impact what the lawmakers are calling "frontline communities." The score would be developed by experts and would be similar to that by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO). For rules and regulations issued by the executive branch, Harris and Ocasio-Cortez are calling for an additional level of review that studies the positive and negative impacts of the measures on vulnerable populations.
Finally, the measure calls for the creation go the Office of Climate and Environmental Justice Accountability which would "represent the views of frontline communities in rulemaking by bringing those communities into the rulemaking process, conduct research on issues and trends in frontline communities, measure the costs of regulations on frontlines communities, and monitor government compliance," according to a summary of the Climate Equity Act provided to Refinery29. The bill also establishes a senior adviser position on climate justice at "all relevant agencies."
As a presidential candidate, Harris has yet to unveil a plan centered on climate change. But the measure is hints at what the California Democrat, who is making the issue of equity a central tenant of her presidential bid, might release in the near future.
“Climate change is an existential threat—it’s critical we act now to achieve a cleaner, safer, and healthier future. But it is not enough to simply cut emissions and end our reliance on fossil fuels. We must ensure that communities already contending with unsafe drinking water, toxic air, and lack of economic opportunity are not left behind,” Harris said in a statement provided to Refinery29. “We need a Green New Deal based in climate and environmental justice, which means building a clean economy that protects communities that have been neglected by policymakers for far too long. I’m proud to work with Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez on this comprehensive proposal, and I’m hopeful that it brings a Green New Deal closer to reality.”
This is not the first time Ocasio-Cortez and Harris have teamed up: Earlier this month, they introduced a bill meant to help people with criminal records apply for federal housing assistance.
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