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Embracing the GOP Infrastructure Plan Would Break Biden’s Environmental Justice Commitments to Communities of Color

President Biden’s promises on climate justice galvanized young voters of color more powerfully than any other single issue.

By Wes Gobar, Evergreen deputy press secretary

While campaigning in Flint, Michigan, Joe Biden pledged to deliver “the most ambitious environmental justice agenda ever”—a promise now put at risk by the GOP’s skeletal infrastructure proposals. Senator Shelly Moore Capito’s (R-WV) infrastructure proposal abandons the investments needed to fulfill President Biden’s environmental justice promises and even threatens to expand environmental racism. 

President Biden’s climate and environmental justice campaign plans were crafted with close consultation from environmental justice leaders. The Biden/Harris plan promised to reduce air and water pollution, build new equity mapping tools, and direct 40% of climate and environmental investments towards disadvantaged communities. President Biden’s promises on climate justice galvanized young voters of color more powerfully than any other single issue. Ultimately, high turnout from Black and brown voters was integral to not only President Biden’s success but also to Democratic wins in key states such as GeorgiaMichigan, and Arizona. Now these communities are counting on President Biden to pass the American Jobs Plan in full and deliver on his environmental justice commitments. 

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The GOP Framework Does Nothing For Environmental Justice. Instead, it makes things worse. Much of America’s existing infrastructure is built on a foundation of systemic racism and environmental injustice. For example, people of color disproportionately live in neighborhoods located near facilities that release toxic pollution into the air and communities in “redlined” areas experience 2.4 times the rate of hospital admissions compared to non-redlined neighborhoods in the same city. The GOP plan not only ignores these realities, but even calls to ‘expedite the environmental review process and permitting process’ for infrastructure projects. 

Under the GOP Plan, Air Pollution Goes Up and Communities of Color Suffer the Most. By failing to take into account the extent to which racism has shaped our highway system, Republicans stand to exacerbate inequity. Their proposal directs more than half of their already slim infrastructure plan ($299 billion) solely towards upgrading and expanding existing highways and roads. Roughly 45 million Americans currently live within 300 feet of major transportation sites, which is proven to cause higher exposure to air contaminants leading to adverse health effects such as reduced lung function, asthma, cardiovascular disease, and premature death. These impacts are not evenly distributed and fall heaviest on African American communities where segregation influenced urban planning. When you expand highways without addressing the accompanying pollution and structural racism, Black and brown communities suffer. 

Also Absent Are Investments to Fix Power Sector Pollution. Fossil fuel plant pollution contributes to disproportionate rates of death and disease which are highly concentrated in low income and minority communities, and especially Black communities. The Republican proposal completely ignores America’s electricity infrastructure and includes no provisions to address pollution from the power sector. While the GOP’s inaction stands to make this problem worse, President Biden’s clean electricity standard would meaningfully confront fossil fuel plant pollution.

"When you expand highways without addressing the accompanying pollution and structural racism, Black and brown communities suffer."

Republicans Are Okay with Americans Drinking Contaminated Water. Republicans propose a measly $35 billion for drinking water and wastewater. This number is simply not enough to fix the scope of the problem. It’s estimated that nearly 110 million Americans face PFAS (per-and polyfluorakyl substances) contaminated water, which leads to a range of serious health issues. And Black communities, like the one Biden addressed in Flint, continue to bear the toxic burdens of lead-poisoned water.

No Money for Homes Means More Indoor Pollution and High Energy Bills. The spaces where Americans live, work and play are critical infrastructure in need of investment. However, this need runs even deeper for Black and brown families. They are more likely to live in older, more energy inefficient homes which result in higher energy bills and toxic indoor health hazards. Republicans are offering exactly $0 to rectify this injustice. 

The American Jobs Plan Offers Biden’s Best Chance to Deliver on Environmental Justice

 Justice40—President Biden’s commitment to deliver “40 percent of the overall benefits of relevant federal investments to disadvantaged communities and track performance toward that goal”—is a central principle driving the American Jobs Plan, but notably absent from the Republican framework. This commitment is the best way to ensure that government investments in clean energy, jobs, and infrastructure uplift the Black and brown communities hit first and worst by the climate crisis and longstanding environmental racism. Revamping the EPA’s data collection to identify disadvantaged communities is also key to meeting this goal. We need a new federal Equity Map based on the interaction between environmental exposures and health, economic, demographic, and social vulnerabilities, and stringent equity screen enforcement to ensure these investments flow where they are most needed. Environmental justice communities cannot afford for these principles to be absent from infrastructure negotiations. 

The American Jobs Plan Invests in Transportation Equity. The American Jobs Plan adds $20 billion to highway investments to “reconnect” neighborhoods cut off by old transportation projects. The White House even named areas like the Claiborne Expressway in New Orleans and Interstate 81 in Syracuse, New York while rolling out the AJP. The American Jobs Plan also makes serious investments in electric vehicles and energy efficiency that would reduce tailpipe emissions. These investments are necessary but notably absent from the Republican plan.

The American Jobs Plan Invests in Water Infrastructure. In contrast to the $35 billion allotted by Republicans, the American Jobs Plan calls for a $111 billion investment that would replace all lead pipes and service, provide funds to upgrade infrastructure for states, Tribes, territories, and disadvantaged communities, monitor PFAS substances in drinking water, and invest in rural small water systems and household well & wastewater systems. These investments would overwhelmingly improve health and educational outcomes for Black and brown families. 

The American Jobs Plan Invests in Homes, Schools, and Federal Buildings. The American Jobs Plan calls for $328 billion investment to revamp our built environment. That means removing health hazards like indoor mold that disproportionately sicken communities of color and equalizing energy efficiency, which would lower bills for communities of color. The American Jobs Plan also designates $126 billion in funds to incentivize localities to incentivize inclusionary zoning—rectifying generations of racist housing policies that continue to reproduce environmentally injustice and inequitable outcomes. 

President Biden and Senate Democrats have a clear choice before them—stand together to deliver the American Jobs Plan and real progress on their environmental justice commitments or break those commitments to pass a package with Republicans that underinvests in our economy and our communities. The communities that need the American Jobs Plan the most are the same communities that delivered the White House and Congress for the Democrats, and they are counting on those leaders to make the right decision. 

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We need the full American Jobs Plan to meet our environmental justice commitments, to achieve 100% clean energy, and to invest in good union jobs at a scale that meets this historic moment. Add your name right now to tell Democrats to hold strong against the GOP's infrastructure bill and pass the American Jobs Plan.

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