With the Democratic debates in full swing, Senator Kamala Harris has taken a stand on the climate crisis. Joining forces with AOC, the two Congresswomen have unveiled new legislation designed to protect low-income communities from the dangers of climate change. This ‘Climate Equity Act’ would support the Green New Deal while limiting threats to low-income communities.
What Would the Climate Equity Act Entail?
The bill would urge any environmental regulation to consider the potential impact on low-income communities. These communities usually bear the brunt of climate-related consequences — they’re typically closer to flood zones, energy refineries, power plants, highways, and polluted areas. Using a rating system similar to the Congressional Budget Office score, the bill will quantify threats to these “front-line communities.”
According to a press release, Senator Harris defines these front-line communities as “those that have experienced systemic socioeconomic disparities, environmental racism, and other forms of injustice, including low-income communities, indigenous peoples, and communities of color.”
The Climate Equity Act would hopefully reduce the dangers faced by these communities. “We must ensure that communities already contending with unsafe drinking water, toxic air, and lack of economic opportunity are not left behind. We need a Green New Deal based on climate and environmental justice,” the California Democrat promised.
By requiring all environmental legislation to be ranked by an Equity Score, the bill would ensure low-income communities benefit rather than suffer. Both experts and representatives from front-line communities would develop the scores.
Beyond Climate Equity Scores: Holding Congress and the Executive Branch Accountable
In addition to rating environmental legislation, the bill would create an Office of Climate and Environmental Justice Accountability. This independent office would provide leaders from front-line communities a “seat at the table” during the legislative process. Moreover, the act would establish a Senior Advisor for Climate and Environmental Justice within all relevant agencies. The position would ensure coordination between its own agency and the new office.
The act would also require any climate-related regulations with a poor equity score to undergo additional review. This review process would bring in members from the affected communities. Then, they would work with policymakers to define ways to limit consequences and maximize benefits for their communities.
To hold the executive branch accountable, any federal grant-making or investment programs would face a similar review.
Political Implications for Kamala Harris
For Kamala Harris, unveiling this bill during the Democratic Debates may have been a strategic political move. Unlike most candidates, Harris has yet to introduce her own, in-depth climate action plan. This legislation could, therefore, help make Harris a more competitive candidate.
Though this is one of Harris’ first climate-related promises, other Democratic candidates have already made their moves.
On Monday, Washington Governor Jay Inslee released a plan to create a new judicial office which would hold corporations responsible for their pollution in low-income communities. Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke has pledged to put $1.2 trillion towards front-line communities. And Senator Cory Booker has challenged the EPA’s practices that dismiss pollution levels in vulnerable communities. Senator Bernie Sanders unveiled an extensive climate reform plan too.
Despite The New Bill, AOC Holds Off On Endorsements
Despite her partnership with Senator Harris for the Climate Equity Act, AOC has not endorsed her or any other candidate in the 2020 Presidential race. She instead has worked across the board with several candidates on environmental protections for front-line communities.
“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,” she said.