Here are the environmental justice stories to watch in 2020

2020 is shaping up to be a pivotal year for those working with
communities who experience both the causes and effects of climate
change most acutely. From proposed federal legislation like the
“Environmental Justice for All Act” circulating in Congress, to
court decisions that could force the Environmental Protection
Agency to more robustly investigate civil rights complaints, this
year promises to foreground efforts to hold the government
accountable for the unequal impacts of pollution, climate change,
and extreme weather.

In local communities nationwide, residents, activists, and
advocates are taking matters into their own hands. Some are
investing in data collection tools to help citizens quantify
pollution levels in their neighborhoods. Others are launching
community revitalization projects that will train residents to work
in renewable energy fields, such as wind and solar. Landfills and
chemical plants that once plagued nearby residences will be
transformed into renewable energy parks.

Grist reached out to environmental justice experts, advocates,
and activists across the country to compile a list of key
developments to follow this year, including new laws, policies, and
regulations; key court decisions to track; and notable grassroots
work in communities that are combating everything from air
pollution to harmful chemicals.

National level

In their efforts to continue fighting climate change in
2020, large environmental organizations are emphasizing “bigger,
deeper coalitions” with diverse grassroots groups — coalitions
united in seeking accountability from polluters
. At
350.org, the influential nonprofit working to end fossil fuel
dependency and transition to renewable energy across the globe,
North America Director Tamara Toles O’Laughlin is focused on
building a diverse climate movement that prioritizes the needs of
communities facing the most acute environmental hazards. This means
identifying resources for climate adaptation, disaster recovery,
and rebuilding in vulnerable populations. These resources could
take the form of climate reparations — compensatory policies that
account for the role of past political decisions in environmental
ills that plague communities today. (Such decisions include zoning
policies that segregate low-income communities of color near waste
incinerators or industrial plants, putting them at greater risk
during extreme weather.) Reparations could be funded by holding
those accountable for contamination and pollution, including
corporations, financially responsible for the fallout.

In 2020, Toles O’Laughlin expects to see “bigger, deeper
coalitions and a new deal for climate.” She feels that 2020 will
be the first year in what may well come to be known as the
“climate decade” — and that collaboration between mainstream
environmental organizations and grassroots environmental justice
groups can’t wait any longer. As the United Nations Environment
Programme found in its Emissions Gap Report in November, “deeper
and faster cuts” are needed over this next decade to limit global
warming to levels that will allow the planet to remain
habitable.

New federal environmental justice bills aim to
strengthen legal protections, including civil rights, for
communities facing environmental hazards and inequities
.
Legal and environmental advocates will be following several bills
gathering steam in Congress. In November, Democratic U.S.
Representatives Raúl M. Grijalva and A. Donald McEachin released a

draft
of the “Environmental Justice for All Act,” which
they say will provide fairer policies and more open processes to
communities that historically have been subjected to systemic
injustices and greater environmental hazards. Vermont Law School
Professor Marianne Engelman Lado expects to see the bill take shape
this year.

Two other Democrats, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker — who
Monday suspended his presidential campaign — and California
Representative Raul Ruiz, introduced
a different bill, the “Environmental Justice Act of 2019,” in
their respective chambers last year. This bill would require
federal agencies to implement and maintain specific strategies to
address the environmental and health hazards impacting vulnerable
communities. It would also strengthen legal protections for
affected individuals, in part by ensuring that communities impacted
by environmental harm can file statutory claims for damages,
something that is prevented under current legal precedent.

Other federal legislation to watch in 2020 includes a workplace
heat protection
bill
that’s making its way through the U.S. House of
Representatives. As
extreme
temperatures and severe
weather conditions exacerbated by climate change have taken a
deadly toll on laborers, worker advocates across the country have
pressed for protections for both indoor and
outdoor
workers. The “Asuncion Valdivia Heat Illness and
Fatality Prevention Act,” introduced in Congress last year, would
require the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to
establish the first ever federal heat stress standard. The
legislation would mandate that people working in high heat
environments have paid rest breaks in cool environments and access
to water and also limit how long a worker can labor in extreme heat
areas. The nonprofit consumer group
Public Citizen
, one of the organizations spearheading the
effort as part of a coalition of worker advocacy groups, said
it’s possible the House may vote on the bill this summer. In the
meantime, the coalition is seeking Republican support for the bill,
which is sponsored exclusively by Democrats. “Heat is an issue
that affects constituents of all political walks of life,” said
Shana Devine, a worker health and safety advocate for Public
Citizen’s Congress Watch division.

In 2020, courts could force the EPA to uphold its duty
to thoroughly investigate civil rights complaints.
Civil
rights advocates are awaiting an important decision from Federal
District Court Judge Saundra Brown Armstrong. She is expected to
rule on a motion from the EPA to alter a 2019 court
judgment
that the agency failed to investigate civil rights
complaints in a timely way. EPA regulations require the agency to
respond to civil rights complaints within 20 days, and if the
agency opens an investigation it must make a determination within
180 days. “For years EPA has failed to enforce civil rights,”
wrote Vermont Law School’s Lado, one of the attorneys
representing the plaintiffs, in an email. “Communities rely on
the federal government to do its job, and in many situations have
little other recourse if EPA doesn’t carry out its
responsibilities.”

Community level

There are several efforts underway to place the power of
environmental data in the hands of those most affected by pollution
and climate change, as well as other initiatives to help residents
transform their communities into healthier, cleaner, more resilient
areas:

A collaborative effort in Texas will produce real-time
air quality data.
Residents in the Dallas/Fort Worth area
will soon have access to real-time air quality data thanks to a
regional air monitoring
network
that is scheduled to debut in early 2020. Downwinders at Risk,
a community organizing group that focuses on North Texas clean air
issues, is behind the project, which will be based in laboratories
at the University of Texas at Dallas. The project will distribute
more than 100 custom-built air quality monitors throughout the
region. Nearly half of the monitors will be placed in vulnerable
communities that disproportionately experience pollution and
poverty. When the network launches, Downwinders at Risk says it
will be the first of its kind in the state and one of the largest
in the nation. The monitors will produce air quality readings every
few seconds, and this data will be accessible via a mobile
application. In addition to the University of Texas team of
researchers, which built the network, the collaboration includes
city and county government agencies, as well as Paul Quinn College,
a historically black school in Dallas.

A pioneering data collection program in California will
ramp up air pollution control efforts.
In 2017, California
legislators passed a
law
requiring the state’s Air Resources Board to create a
uniform statewide system for annually reporting many forms of air
pollution. Last July, local districts began monitoring air in
communities that were selected by the board based on their high
exposure to toxic air contaminants and other pollutants. By this
fall, the districts are expected to provide their first annual
reports for these communities. Air quality expert H. Christopher
Frey, a professor of environmental engineering at North Carolina
State University, said that the program will create a model that
can be emulated in other states. The law also includes new
requirements for retrofitting pollution controls on industrial
sources, as well as greater access to air quality and emissions
data.

Harold Mitchell Jr.
speaks to reporters about his ReGenesis project in Spartanburg, SC,
in 2008. He is now expanding the program to reimagine former
industrial sites as spaces for renewable energy production.
Courtesy Harold Mitchell Jr.

South Carolina residents are reimagining former
industrial sites as green spaces for renewable energy
production.
In South Carolina, community revitalization
projects currently underway in the city of Spartanburg could be
replicated throughout the South and beyond, if Harold Mitchell
Jr.’s vision comes to fruition. Mitchell Jr., a former state
representative, is expanding the work he began when he founded the
ReGenesis Project, a nonprofit that the EPA has, in the past, held
up as a model for environmental justice programs. ReGenesis takes a
multi-prong approach to remediating contaminated sites that
incorporates housing, job training, healthcare, and infrastructure.
In a neighborhood that has several former Superfund sites, such as
a shuttered fertilizer plant, Mitchell Jr. eventually hopes to open
a renewable energy park including a solar farm and an aquaponics
facility to grow organic produce. He expects to start construction
on the aquaponics farm by late summer. “My focus is finishing
that and to be able to help other communities to build the exact
same thing,” he said, noting that his goal is to create
peer-to-peer training to help spread the idea of repurposing
Superfund sites.

Alaska may join other states and cities in banning
hazardous flame retardant chemicals.
This year Alaska
legislators will consider a bill that would
ban an entire class of toxic flame retardant chemicals from
children’s toys, household products, and furniture. “The
Toxic-free Firefighters and Children Act” aims to outlaw
organohalogen chemicals, which are especially
harmful
to children and can cause learning and developmental
disabilities, as well as cancers and fertility problems. Alaska
Community Action on Toxics, a statewide environmental health and
justice organization, is behind the effort.The group worked to pass
a similar ordinance in Anchorage last April, which Executive
Director Pamela Miller said gives her greater hope that the
statewide bill will pass this year. She added the measure enjoys
bipartisan support and is likely to move forward after the
legislature reconvenes later this month. The ban is part of a
larger trend across the country: More than a dozen states and
cities have already passed laws to end the use of fire-retardant
chemicals.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline
Here are the environmental justice stories to watch in 2020
on
Jan 14, 2020.

Source: FS – All – Ecology – News 2
Here are the environmental justice stories to watch in 2020