Hillary Clinton’s Plan to Fight for Environmental and Climate Justice
Across America, the burdens of air pollution, water pollution, and toxic hazards are borne disproportionately by low-income communities and communities of color.
Air pollution from power plants, factories, refineries, transportation and waste incineration significantly exacerbate asthma, and African-American children are twice as likely as white children to suffer from asthma, three times more likely to be hospitalized, and five times more likely to die from the disease. Nearly half of Latinos in the United States live in counties where the air does not meet EPA public health standards for smog.
From Flint, Michigan, to Toledo, Ohio, to Charleston, West Virginia, families have been exposed to lead, dangerous algae, and toxic chemicals in their drinking water.
Exposure to pesticides and chemicals has been linked to childhood cancer, and the likelihood of such exposure can depend on where children live. For example, in the Manchester neighborhood of Houston, which is 85 percent Latino and where 27 schools are within one mile of a high-risk chemical facility, children who attend public schools are 56 percent more likely to get leukemia than those who live 10 miles away.
Simply put, this is environmental racism. And the impacts of climate change, from more severe storms to longer heat waves to rising sea levels, will disproportionately affect low-income and minority communities, which suffer the worst losses during extreme weather and have the fewest resources to prepare.
Hillary believes we need to break down all the barriers holding Americans back—including the burdens imposed by unhealthy air, polluted water, and exposure to toxins. Environmental and climate justice can’t just be slogans—they have to be central goals. Clean air and clean water aren’t luxuries—they are basic rights of all Americans. No one in our country should be exposed to toxic chemicals or hazardous wastes simply because of where they live, their income, or their race. And the impacts of climate change must be addressed with an eye to climate justice, so no community gets left out or left behind. As President, Hillary will:
- Eliminate lead as a major public health threat within five years. Lead is a well-documented neurotoxin, and childhood lead exposure can irreversibly harm brain development, produce developmental delays, cause behavioral problems, and negatively impact school performance. There is no safe blood lead level in children. For every dollar invested in preventing childhood exposure to lead, between $17 and $200 is saved in reduced educational, health, and criminal justice expenses and improved health and economic outcomes—but the few federal programs that exist are inadequate to address the scope of the problem and have seen significant budget cuts and volatility in recent years. The ongoing tragedy in Flint has put a spotlight on the urgency of this crisis, but Flint is not alone. More than 535,000 children are poisoned by lead in the United States, and children of color are more likely to be poisoned than white children.
Eliminating lead as a major public health threat to our children is a goal we can and must meet as a nation. Clinton will establish a Presidential Commission on Childhood Lead Exposure and charge it with writing a national plan to eliminate the risk of lead exposure from paint, pipes, and soil within five years; align state, local and philanthropic resources with federal initiatives; implement best prevention practices based on current science; and leverage new financial resources such as lead safe tax credits. Clinton will direct every federal agency to adopt the Commission’s recommendations, make sure our public water systems are following appropriate lead safety guidelines, and leverage federal, state, local, and philanthropic resources, including up to $5 billion in federal dollars, to replace lead paint, windows, and doors in homes, schools, and child care centers and remediate lead-contaminated soil.
- Protect public health and safety by modernizing drinking and wastewater systems. As the crisis in Flint has made painfully clear, we have not invested enough in the drinking and wastewater systems that keep our communities healthy and safe. Aging and inadequate wastewater systems discharge more than 900 billion gallons of untreated sewage a year, posing health risks to humans and wildlife, disrupting ecosystems, and disproportionately impacting communities of color.
In addition, many struggling communities around the United States have limited or no access to clean, safe water, including farmworker communities in the Central Valley of California, Navajo and other Native American communities in the west, and small towns throughout the Great Plains. Drinking water and wastewater treatment is often the largest single energy cost for municipalities—meaning inefficient water treatment is a financial drain on low-income communities. Clinton has a $275 billion plan to invest in modernizing American infrastructure, including drinking and wastewater infrastructure, and will work with states, municipalities, and the private sector to bring our water systems into the 21st century and ensure that all Americans have access to clean, safe drinking water.
- Prosecute criminal and civil violations that expose communities to environmental harm and work with Congress to strengthen public health protections in our existing laws. When companies and individuals break the law and expose communities to harm, they should be held accountable with appropriate criminal or civil enforcement under environmental, public health, and safety laws. When residents of Flint were exposed to harmful lead pollution, there were no criminal violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act, even though officials knew or should have known that the drinking water had been contaminated. When Freedom Industries polluted the drinking water in Charleston, West Virginia, the corporate officials involved were allowed to plead guilty to misdemeanor violations of the Clean Water Act. The judge said that they were “hardly criminals,” and no one went to jail for more than 30 days. After 29 miners died at the Upper Big Branch Mine, our worst mining disaster in 40 years, prosecutors charged and convicted Don Blankenship, the former head of Massey Energy, for conspiracy to violate the Mine Safety and Health Act. Blankenship received only one year in jail, however, because violations of the Mine Safety Act are only misdemeanors. The same is true for the Occupational Safety and Health Act, where willful violations that cause death only authorize misdemeanor charges. The Lead Disclosure Rule, which protects children from lead paint, does not contain any criminal provisions, relying instead on a separate law, the Toxic Substances Control Act, which only authorizes misdemeanor charges. And even when there is a criminal conviction for environmental violations, too often, victims receive no restitution for the harm they have suffered.
Clinton will work with Congress to update our environmental, public health, and safety laws by enhancing the criminal provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act, adding criminal provisions to the Lead Disclosure Rule, improving the lead inspection standards of the Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule, and increasing the penalties for violations of the Mine Safety and Health Act and the Occupational Safety and Health Act so that they are felonies that carry the possibility of serious jail time. Clinton will also work with Congress to ensure that victims of environmental crimes receive compensation for their injuries, direct the EPA and Justice Department to work together on using Title VI of the Civil Rights Act to prevent or rectify environmental injustices, and direct Justice Department prosecutors to be just as tough on environmental criminals as they are on other criminals who endanger our communities.
- Create new economic opportunity through brownfield clean-up and redevelopment. There are over 450,000 brownfield sites across the United States where the presence of hazardous substances, pollutants, and contaminants pose threats to public health and deprive local communities of economic development opportunities. EPA’s Superfund program has insufficient resources to clean up the remaining sites on the National Priority List, and most brownfields are overseen by capacity-constrained state and local governments.
Clinton will work to replenish the federal Superfund, partner with state and local governments in pushing responsible parties to pay their fair share of clean-up costs, and collaborate with local leaders to redevelop brownfields in a way that creates good-paying jobs and new economic opportunities for impacted communities. To protect the health and safety of local residents, workers will be trained by accredited organizations. To help create long-term career paths, contractors working on these projects will be required to participate in registered apprenticeship programs and newcomers to the workforce will be encouraged to join these programs.
- Reduce urban air pollution by investing in clean power and transportation. The US has made important progress in reducing sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, nitrogen oxides and other pollutants through cleaner power generation and more efficient cars and trucks. Yet in many communities, particularly communities of color, air pollution continues to threaten public health and safety. More than 40 percent of Americans live in places where pollution levels are often too dangerous to breathe. Urban air pollution contributes to asthma episodes, missed school and work days and reduced life expectancies for community residents. Clinton will defend and implement President Obama’s Clean Power Plan and ensure that states prioritize environmental and climate justice when designing their compliance plans. Through her Clean Energy Challenge, Clinton will provide competitive grants to states, cities, and rural communities that exceed federal standards and take the lead in deploying cost-saving and pollution-reducing clean energy and energy efficiency solutions. In the transportation sector, which is the leading source of ground-level ozone and other urban air pollutants, Clinton will defend and extend federal pollution standards for cars, trucks, and buses, and invest in efficient transit that connects people to jobs and opportunity. Clinton will accelerate the transition to zero or near-zero emission trucking and shipping and award Clean Energy Challenge grants to states and cities that develop innovative transportation solutions that cut air pollution and oil consumption, while improving access to employment and education opportunities for low-income communities and communities of color.
- Broaden the clean energy economy, build career opportunities, and combat energy poverty by expanding solar and energy efficiency in low-income communities and communities of color. Clinton is committed to ensuring that no one is left behind or left out in the transition to a clean energy economy. In addition to addressing the ways that low-income communities and communities of color face disproportionate burdens from air pollution and a changing climate, Clinton will ensure that the economic benefits of clean energy and energy efficiency are broadly shared. Through her Clean Energy Challenge, Clinton will overcome barriers that prevent low-income families from reducing energy costs through solar panel installations and residential energy efficiency improvements. Clinton will ensure that states, cities and rural communities prioritize environmental and climate justice when receiving Clean Energy Challenge grants. Clinton will also work to expand good-paying job opportunities for people of color throughout the clean energy economy and support prevailing wage and project labor agreements for new infrastructure that utilize skilled labor and help recruit and train workers from communities most heavily impacted by pollution. In today’s economy, African Americans hold only 1.1 percent of energy jobs and receive only 0.01 percent of energy sector profits. This must change in the clean energy economy we build for the future.
- Protect communities from the impacts of climate change by investing in resilient infrastructure. Climate change will target every community in America, and we know the poorest and most vulnerable communities will suffer the most. Climate change will cause more frequent and severe downpours in the Northeast, potentially overwhelming aging drainage systems and causing sewerage backups in predominantly low-income areas. Sea level rise will threaten vulnerable communities from Baltimore to New Orleans. More frequent and severe heat waves disproportionately threaten the health of those who cannot afford adequate air conditioning or have preexisting health conditions. State and local leaders are beginning to recognize the need to factor climate risks into infrastructure planning and find creative solutions that protect their communities. For instance, Philadelphia’s Green City, Clean Waters program installed porous pavements, rain gardens, rain barrels, and other green infrastructure solutions to reduce stormwater runoff and prevent sewer overflows. Clinton will give states and local communities the data, tools, and resources they need to make smart investments in resilient infrastructure and to help diminish the local impacts of climate change.
- Establish an Environmental and Climate Justice Task Force to make environmental and climate justice, including cumulative impacts, an integral part of federal decision-making. While multiple federal agencies already consider environmental justice when awarding grants or permitting projects, including through the National Environmental Justice Advisory Committee at EPA, more needs to be done to tackle the cumulative health, economic, and environmental impacts of pollution and climate change in vulnerable communities.
On her first day in office, Clinton will establish an Environmental and Climate Justice Task Force and charge it with finding and fixing the next 50 Flints—the low-income urban and rural communities facing the most acute environmental risks. The Task Force would also:
- Be directed to make recommendations on addressing cumulative environmental impacts and preventing other communities from facing similar burdens in the future, particularly in light of the additional challenges posed by climate change, including through stronger enforcement of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.
- Include outside experts, the environmental justice community, and federal, state, and local officials, and draw on all of the resources of the federal government to conduct its work.
- Be supported by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences’ research and partnership grant programs, which Clinton would significantly expand.
Clinton’s vision for ensuring environmental and climate justice is one pillar of both her Breaking Every Barrier agenda to confront all our challenges together and deliver results for every American, and of her comprehensive energy and climate agenda, which includes major initiatives in the following areas:
- Clean Energy Challenge: Develop, defend and implement smart federal energy and climate standards. Provide states, cities and rural communities ready to lead on clean energy and exceed these standards with the flexibility, tools and resources they need to succeed.
- Modernizing North American Infrastructure: Improve the safety and security of existing energy infrastructure and align new infrastructure we build with the clean energy economy we are seeking to create.
- Safe and Responsible Production: Ensure that fossil fuel production taking place today is safe and responsible, that taxpayers get a fair deal for development on public lands, and that areas that are too sensitive for energy production are taken off the table.
- Revitalizing Coal Communities: Protect the health and retirement security of coalfield workers and their families and provide economic opportunities for those that kept the lights on and factories running for more than a century.
- Energy and Climate Security: Reduce the amount of oil consumed in the United States and around the world, guard against energy supply disruptions, and make our communities, our infrastructure, and our financial markets more resilient to risks posed by climate change.
- Collaborative Stewardship: Renew our shared commitment to the conservation of our disappearing lands, waters, and wildlife, to the preservation of our history and culture, and to expanding access to the outdoors for all Americans.