Dr. Ruiz Introduces Comprehensive Environmental Justice Act with Sen. Booker

April 15, 2021
Press Release

Washington, D.C. – Today, Congressman Raul Ruiz, M.D. announced the introduction of H.R. 2434, the Environmental Justice Act, to require federal agencies to consider and mitigate environmental justice impacts of agency actions, strengthen legal protections for those affected by environmental injustices, and consider the effects of cumulative impacts on communities during permitting decisions. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) is leading the companion bill in the U.S. Senate.  

Dr. Ruiz spoke about the need for his bill during today’s hearing held by the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change titled, “The Clean Future Act and Environmental Justice: Protecting Frontline Communities.” Click here to watch Dr. Ruiz’s remarks. 

In the eastern Coachella Valley – where I grew up – my constituents face numerous and staggering environmental justice challenges,” said Dr. Ruiz. “For decades, lax environmental enforcement allowed environmental hazards to persist at the expense of my constituents. That is why I am pleased to introduce the Environmental Justice Act. To achieve true environmental justice, our government must offer equal protection from environmental health hazards and provide equal access to decision making that affects the public’s health.” 

"We cannot achieve economic justice or social justice in this country without simultaneously addressing environmental justice,” said Senator Booker. “Clean air and clean water shouldn’t be luxuries for the privileged – yet every day, communities of color, low income communities, and indigenous communities are disproportionately harmed by pollution. This reality has largely been ignored, and the affected communities have been left without the legal tools to protect their rights. The Environmental Justice Act is an important step in returning power to these communities.” 

Dr. Ruiz also introduced H.R. 2431, the Voices for Environmental Justice Act, which provides funding for communities to participate in the permitting of waste facilities seeking to do business near their homes. This bill was also included in today’s Energy and Commerce Committee hearing. 

The Voices for Environmental Justice Act is included in the Committee’s comprehensive climate change bill, the Clean Future Act.  

BACKGROUND:  

Dr. Ruiz has been a consistent advocate in Congress for environmental justice, frequently bringing together tribal, state, and federal government officials to collaborate in order to prevent future environmental injustices in the East Valley and across America. 

Dr. Ruiz secured $100 million in the American Rescue Plan for environmental justice and Clean Air Act grants to assist communities heavily affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. H.R. 1889, the Environmental Justice for Coronavirus Affected Communities Act, was included in the American Rescue Plan.  

H.R. 2434, the Environmental Justice Act, does the following: 

Codifies and expands the 1994 Executive Order on Environmental Justice. Executive Order 12898 focused federal attention on environmental and human health impacts of federal actions on minority and low-income communities. The Environmental Justice Act of 2021 would codify this order into law, protecting it from being revoked by future Presidents. It would also expand the EO by improving the public’s access to information from federal agencies charged with implementing the bill and creating more opportunities for the public to participate in the agencies’ decision-making process. 

Codifies the existing National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC) and environmental justice grant programs. The bill ensures that NEJAC will continue to convene and provide critical input on environmental justice issues to federal agencies, and that several important environmental justice grant programs, including Environmental Justice Small Grants and CARE grants, will continue to be implemented under federal law. Since these grant programs and NEJAC have never been Congressionally authorized, they are susceptible to being discontinued by future Administrations. 

Establishes requirements for federal agencies to address environmental justice. The bill requires agencies to implement and update annually a strategy to address negative environmental and health impacts on communities of color, indigenous communities, and low-income communities. In addition, the bill codifies CEQ (Council on Environmental Quality) guidance to assist federal agencies with their NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) procedures so that environmental justice concerns are effectively identified and addressed. The bill also codifies existing EPA guidance to enhance EPA’s consultations with Native American tribes in situations where tribal treaty rights may be affected by a proposed EPA action. 

Requires consideration of cumulative impacts and persistent violations in federal or state permitting decisions under the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act. Currently, Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act permitting decisions do not take into account an area’s cumulative pollutant levels when a permit for an individual facility is being issued or renewed. This can result in an exceedingly high concentration of polluting facilities in certain areas. The bill also requires permitting authorities to consider a facility’s history of violations when deciding to issue or renew a permit. 

Clarifies that communities impacted by events like the Flint water crisis may bring statutory claims for damages and common law claims in addition to requesting injunctive relief. Under current legal precedent, environmental justice communities are often prevented from bringing claims for damages. The bill would ensure that impacted communities can assert these claims. 

Reinstates a private right of action for discriminatory practices under the Civil Rights Act. The bill overrules the Supreme Court decision in Alexander v. Sandoval and restores the right for individual citizens to bring actions under the Civil Rights Act against entities engaging in discriminatory practices that have a disparate impact. Currently citizens must rely upon federal agencies to bring such actions on their behalf. 

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