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Equitable and Just Economic Stimulus Spending – Sign on

Recommendations for Equitable and Just Economic Stimulus Spending in Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic
As Congress considers legislation to address the growing public health and economic crises caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the principles of justice and equity must be centered in the response. Environmental justice communities, Tribal communities, low income communities and communities of color are hit hardest by economic downturns and must be prioritized. Members of these communities are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 because they are often exposed to disproportionately high levels of pollution and have underlying health conditions, such as asthma, diabetes and cancer.
Congress must also ensure that the pathway for economic recovery works for everyone and that the benefits of a stimulus package are distributed equitably and justly. In addition, stimulus legislation must include safeguards to ensure that stimulus dollars are spent in ways that comply with environmental regulations to avoid increasing public health and safety risks. Projects supported by stimulus legislation should reduce locally harmful air pollution in communities coping with the cumulative impacts of multiple pollution sources. Companies receiving stimulus support with facilities located in or near low-income neighborhoods, tribal communities and communities must significantly reduce locally harmful pollution, such as airborne particulate matter, in these communities.
To safeguard environmental justice communities, Tribal communities, low-income communities, and communities of color, Congress must include in economic stimulus legislation the spending priorities recommended below.
Access to affordable clean water is critical, especially as households nationwide respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. We recommend the following specific actions and funding:
Immediately implement a national moratorium on water shutoffs for all households. Fund $100 million for the immediate restoration of all residential water services.
Include $25 million for immediate potable water distribution, filter installation and sanitation systems for homes without access to these necessities. Spending should prioritize urban, rural, and Tribal communities who currently lack access to safe drinking water and adequate water and sanitation systems.
Include $45 million in grants and technical assistance dollars for the replacement of both household plumbing and lead services lines. Spending should prioritize households’ whose plumbing systems have been corroded by municipal drinking water systems, such as in Flint, Michigan. This should also allow for home waters filters for contaminants including but not limited to lead and PFAS. Trust in municipal water systems must be rebuilt.
Include $150 million to establish three Community Water and Energy Resource Centers (CWERCs) in Michigan. CWERCs will resolve many ratepayer, infrastructure, and environmental issues to improve Michigan’s essential freshwater resources through a decentralized approach to water treatment and infrastructure.
Fund $30 billion for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund and the Clean Water State Revolving Fund. These funds support investments in infrastructure and programs that are essential to providing safe and affordable drinking water to communities, protecting water systems, managing waste- and stormwater, building climate resilience and expanding economic opportunities for low-income communities and communities of color. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave U.S. drinking water and wastewater infrastructure “D” and “D+” grades, respectively, and estimates that the investment gap for these critical systems will reach $105 billion by 2025.
Households must have access to affordable, reliable and sustainable electricity to ensure public health and safety and to support an inclusive, just and pollution-free energy economy with high-quality jobs. We recommend funding for the following programs:
Fund $3.2 billion for the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) Program. According to DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, “Through the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act), the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) Program provided $3.2 billion in block grants to cities, communities, states, U.S. territories, and Indian tribes to develop, promote, implement, and manage energy efficiency and conservation projects that ultimately created jobs.” Economic stimulus legislation should provide $3.2 billion to the EECBG program. The EECBG program should prioritize spending in communities left behind by past and ongoing energy efficiency programs.
Fund $7 billion for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. LIHEAP assists families with energy costs related to energy bills and weatherization and energy-related home minor repairs. Stimulus legislation should include $7 billion for LIHEAP.
Fund $7 billion for the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP). WAP provides weatherization for low-income households, leading to $238 or more in average savings on energy costs. WAP lowers energy bills for mid- and low-income families by supporting home energy efficiency improvements and supports clean energy jobs. Every year the requests for WAP support far exceed the funds available, leaving many households without the support they need to improve their energy efficiency and reduce energy costs. Congress should include $7 billion for WAP in stimulus legislation and strengthen the program to better reach and serve low-income families.
Existing federal programs, with adequate funding, can substantially reduce air pollution from transportation and goods movement. These programs provide critical funds to shift fleets and equipment from diesel to zero emissions, while improving air quality and public health. We recommend that Congress supporting the following programs:
Fund $500 million annually for Federal Transit Administration’s Low or No Emissions Vehicle Program.
Fund $500 million annually for the Diesel Emissions Reductions Act (DERA) and prioritize zero emissions replacement equipment.
Prioritize programs for communities confronted with the cumulative impacts of disproportionately high levels of pollution.
To build safe and healthy communities and infrastructure, we recommend that Congress fund the following programs:
Fund $100 million for the National Institute of Environmental Health Science (NIEHS) Environmental Career Worker Training. The NIEHS Environmental Career Worker Training Program (ECWTP) provides job and safety training for disadvantaged and underrepresented members of communities of color and low-income communities to secure jobs in environmental restoration, construction, handling hazardous materials and waste, and emergency response. A 2015 report assessing the program found that “an annual federal investment of $3.5 million in the ECWTP generates a $100 million return.” The report found that the program increases the earning potential of those trained, increases tax revenue, lowers workplace injury and hiring costs, and reduces crime..
Fund $6 billion for the EPA Environmental Justice Small Grants (EJSG) Program. This program provides small grants to communities to address environmental risks associated with high concentrations of pollution, to prepare for climate change effects, and to improve public health. In 2019, the EJSG program provided roughly $1.5 million for one-year grants of up to $30,000 each. Given the disproportionate exposure to high levels of pollution, climate change effects and other impacts of historic economic and racial inequality, these grants provide critical resources to low-income communities, tribal communities and communities of color to improve community health and support job creation. Congress should increase the annual funding for the EJSG program to $6 billion, increase the grant size to up to $500,000, and increase the grant period from one to two years.
Fund $20 billion for Superfund Site Cleanup to protect communities from toxic pollution. Hurricanes Harvey, Florence, and Maria spotlighted the elevated public health and safety risks that Superfund sites pose to communities. Superfund cleanup spending is crucial to protect the 53 million people living within three miles of the existing 1,836 Superfund sites. Stimulus legislation should increase Superfund site cleanup funding to $20 billion.
Fund $560 million for EPA to enforce environmental regulations. Industrial facilities and other companies must continue to comply with environmental regulations to avoid increasing public health and safety risks at a time when public health is already threatened by the corona virus pandemic. To protect public health and safety and hold companies accountable when they violate environmental regulations, Congress should provide $560 million for EPA to ensure compliance and enforcement with environmental regulations.
Fund $30 billion for Community Development Block Grants (CDBG). The CDBG program provides grants to states to support community development and address economic and public health challenges created by historic racial and economic inequality. CDBG grants support construction of affordable housing, programs to create economic opportunities and jobs, services for those in need, job creation, and improvement of community living conditions and quality of life. In light of current public health and safety risks, Congress should provide $30 billion for CDBG to support equitable and just community development and access to safe, affordable, resilient and energy efficient housing.
Fund $2 billion for Brownfields Redevelopment. EPA’s Brownfields Program supports economic redevelopment by helping states and communities safely clean up and sustainably reuse former industrial and contaminated sites. Congress should increase the FY 2019 annual appropriation of $250 million for EPA’s Brownfields redevelopment program to $2 billion to support economic development and sustainable approaches to local land use. This program should be implemented through community-driven planning that protects against community displacement.
Environmental regulation does not necessarily mean healthy environments for all communities. Many communities suffer from the cumulative effects of multiple pollution sources. National climate legislation must not abandon or diminish the important goal of reducing toxic pollution in all its forms. The stimulus is an important opportunity for an innovative and comprehensive approach to reducing legacy environmental and economic impacts on communities and be designed intentionally to ensure that it does not impose further risks. Therefore all the items noted above, should integrate criteria and mechanisms for prioritizing those communities which are the most vulnerable economically and environmentally.


Are Migrant Farmworkers More at Risk to Covid-19?

Could migrant farmworkers be more susceptible to the coronavirus? In a time where social distancing is encouraged and washing one’s hands is important to staying safe from the coronavirus, there is cause for concern for farmworkers that are exposed to less than ideal living and working situations. Most workers live in crowded housing, are transported to farms on crowded buses, have unsanitary working conditions and cannot work from home. If a worker does contract the virus, most farmworkers do not have health insurance and do not have the finances to pay for medication and treatment out of pocket.
Some states, including North Carolina, have made alterations to protect farmworkers. Some accommodations include separate housing for individuals suspected of having the virus and access to hand sanitizer. Is this enough to keep farmworkers healthy and safe? Read More.


EPA suspends enforcement of environmental laws amid coronavirus

This is essentially a nationwide waiver of environmental rules. Communities around these chemical plants and refineries now have one more threat to their health and well-being. If no one is watching and there is no financial or legal consequences for dumping toxic chemicals into the air, water and land this country has another crisis lurking in the near future.
Houston, Texas has at least six major chemical fires since last March, incidents that killed three workers, injured dozens, exposed thousands to pollutants and, in the case of the Watson Grinding blast, may cost dozens of residents their homes. That was when the industries were monitored and had to abide by the laws.   Read more.

News Archive

Ten Equity Implications of the Coronavirus in the United States

Everyday the nation’s government and public health officials are making rapid decisions in response to the Coronavirus outbreak. To assist officials in their decision making and response to the virus, the NAACP has provided a resource that highlights 10 major impacts the virus could have on minority or low income communities.  Read More.
Full Resource Guide
The following considerations and proposals can be found on the NAACP website.
10 Impacts of the Coronavirus COVID-19 Outbreak on Communities of Color

  1. Racism and stigmatization have increased, particularly towards the Asian and Asian American populations.
  2. Certain populations including immigrants, incarcerated people, people over 60 years old, people with disabilities, people with special health needs, and others are at an added risk of exposure and other implications.
  3. Frontline workers face tough choices between abstaining from work or risking exposure.
  4. Census and voting may be jeopardized as public outings continue to dwindle.
  5. Coronavirus remediation will result in increased exposure to toxic cleaning chemicals.
  6. Children and college students risk exposure in schools. If schools close, students may experience food or housing insecurities.
  7. There is a lack of accessibility to testing kits.
  8. Quarantine policies and practices are unfolding with a risk to human and civil rights.
  9. The coronavirus has already been used to justify increased militarization and more restrictive immigration policies and practices.
  10. Denial and misinformation on the crisis can worsen the outbreak.

10 Policy Recommendations to Temper the Impact of the Coronavirus on Communities of Color

  1. Shift the narrative surrounding the crisis: “The virus is the enemy, not the person who is infected.”
  2. Adopt policies that increase access to childcare, healthcare and humane, sanitary living conditions to at-risk, vulnerable populations.
  3. Advocate for the establishment of a paid leave system, strengthened OSHA standards, provision of training and safety gear, and routine testing for all workers.
  4. Ensure the data collection for the Census through online and telephone enumeration, extend voting hours, and minimize large gatherings.
  5. Significantly increase the stringency of the Toxic Substances Control Act.
  6. Advocate for equal standards of sanitation, safety, and health as well as education continuity, food assistance for families and the establishment of housing assistance through Stafford Act provisions.
  7. Advocate for funding for an effective health infrastructure, prioritization of testing for vulnerable groups/populations, and equitable distribution of limited hospital supplies.
  8. Establish and enforce a Quarantine Bill of Rights.
  9. Establish sanctuary sites, repeal the travel ban and repeal of the restrictions on the provision of healthcare to immigrants.
  10. Advance litigation for the willful misleading of the public for political gain while jeopardizing the wellbeing of the nation.

Military bases contaminated by “forever chemicals”

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) analyzed the presence of “forever chemicals” in the drinking water on military bases. In a report released in February, the Pentagon revealed that over 600 military sites and surround communities could have drinking water contaminated by a “forever chemical,” including PFAS. As a part of the worst sites, the EWG examined the contamination at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, West Point Military Academy in New York and Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona.
Although none of the sites exceed the EPA’s health advisory level for PFAS at 70 parts per trillion, some sites do exceed the lower levels set for “forever chemical” by certain states. Read More.


The Oil and Gas Industry is Asking for Relief

The American Petroleum Institute (API) has requested temporary regulatory relief for the oil and gas industry. In a letter sent to President Trump, API has asked for a suspension of certain regulatory requirements to assist in operations during a time of decreasing oil and gas prices and decreased staff. Some requirements under question include record keeping, non-essential inspections and audits, and trainings. Read More.


A Decrease in Pollution Levels Across the U.S.

As the United States continues to respond to the coronavirus outbreak, cities across the country are seeing a general decrease in air pollution. While people are being asked to stay home to avoid exposure to the virus, cities including Los Angeles, Seattle and New York City are seeing fewer cars on the road. The decrease in traffic has led to a decrease in nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide from car emissions and an increase in rush hour speeds. Read More. 


Flint, MI: Did Lead Contamination Damage Kids’ Brains?

Five years ago, the public became aware of the lead water crisis present in Flint, Michigan. Today, the effects of the contamination and of the water cleanup are still being felt by the residents as they live off of bottled water. Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician that first concluded that children were being exposed to high levels of lead from the drinking water, has found staggering results for the number of children that will have to have additional learning support. There is no safe level of lead exposure and Dr. Mona claims that nearly 14,000 kids under the age of 6 have been exposed to lead contamination. Read More. 


How Climate Change Could Affect Affordable Housing Options

Residents of a Miami trailer park were shocked when a new landowner decided to increase monthly rent prices by nearly 50%. Residents fought back against the rent spike; however, a new concern is on the horizon. With rising sea levels, homeowners that reside on the coast may move more inland. As the land off the coast becomes more valuable, concerns rise for residents of some of the last remaining affordable housing options. Read More.

Backyard Talk

Shelter In Place Can Be Very Different Depending on Where You Live

The Center for Health, Environment & Justice team and I send our compassion, support and affection to those whose health and livelihoods may be affected by COVID-19. This is a worldwide crisis on a scale we have not seen in our lifetimes. We are thinking of you, your family, friends and neighbors.
As you know our team has always been about families, communities and people and at all times working on issues from the grassroots to the White House not the other way around. For the first time, the entire country now has a better understanding of the horrors of “sheltering in place.”  Hundreds of our member’s communities, maybe you live in one, have been told to shelter in place because of an explosion from a pipeline, refinery, chemical plant and other releases.
I feel safe in my home, even though I’m in the high risk age range. I am also grateful that I have a place to stay with food, water and clean air, until the public health crisis is over. I can work from home, hold virtual meetings, talk with my friends through the phone, Facebook or e-mail. As terrifying as this virus is I still feel safe, maybe I shouldn’t.
Unfortunately, safe is not how so many of communities CHEJ works with feel, when asked to shelter in place because of an environmental release or explosion. There are a number of reason for their fears.
–No one told them something was going to happen and they should seek safe shelter, stock up on food, water and toilet paper.
–There wasn’t days of news castors telling folks what scientists think the real dangers are, what health symptoms people should look out for or the speed of the poison touching communities as it moves across the world.
–No federal or state health agency was working around the clock to ensure everyone exposed would receive critical health care if needed, regardless of whether they’re insured.
I invite you to read or reread the article we reprinted on our web from the New York Times authored by Ana Parras a local activist in TX.
In Texas and across the country, the E.P.A.’s gutting of the Chemical Disaster Rule is a matter of life or death.
While families across the country celebrated Thanksgiving with their loved ones, more than 50,000 people in Port Neches, Tex., were forced to evacuate from their homes and spend the holiday in makeshift shelters. The reason? Two explosions at the Texas Petroleum Chemical plant sent flames into the sky, injured eight people, and released plumes of butadiene, a carcinogen, into the air.
The disaster erupted six days after the Trump administration gutted Obama-era regulations meant to improve safety at 12,000 chemical plants around the country.
It’s too soon to say whether these now abandoned rules would have made a difference in Port Neches. But there is no question that the communities that surround these thousands of plants are less safe now.
This regulatory rollback gives chemical plants across the country a free pass, in pursuit of greater profits, to operate in a way that endangers families and workers.
There are over 2,500 chemical facilities in the Houston area. Manchester, the neighborhood where Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services works, is among those most affected by this negligence. There are 30 chemical plants and waste sites in the Manchester area that report to the Environmental Protection Agency. When an explosion happens, nearby neighborhoods, mostly Latinx and people of color, are exposed to this toxicity.
And these toxic blasts are not infrequent. The last chemical explosion in Houston to garner national attention was in March at the Intercontinental Terminals Co., a few miles east of Manchester. This explosion led to high benzene levels in the air, school closures and community shelter-in-place orders for days: stay where you are, turn off air conditioning. Some advisories told people to put a plastic tarp over their windows, sealed with duct tape, to prevent air from coming in.
Federal regulations were supposed to protect us. For years, organizations like United Steelworkers, Greenpeace and dozens of other community and environmental organizations pressured the E.P.A. to make chemical disaster prevention a priority.
The turning point happened in 2013 when an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Tex., 200 miles northwest of Houston, killed 15 people and injured over 260.
Later that year, President Barack Obama signed an executive order calling on federal agencies to create a task force. What emerged was the Chemical Disaster Rule, a proposal to improve plant safety and protect surrounding communities, which the former E.P.A. administrator Gina McCarthy approved one month before President Trump took office.
Two months later, the Trump administration blocked the regulations from taking effect, and now the E.P.A. has released a final rule that eviscerates the Obama-era requirements. The agency rescinded major accident prevention provisions, including requirements to consider safer technology, audits of accidents by outside parties and “root cause” analyses of accidents.
While Texas has the largest number of chemical facilities in the country, Illinois, California, Iowa and Louisiana are riddled with them, too. As The Houston Chronicle has documented, no state is spared from having at least one facility that could have toxic or flammable chemical accidents with consequences that extend beyond the site.
The E.P.A. calls these communities — areas that could be affected by a release from a chemical accident — “vulnerable zones.” One in three children in America attends a school in a vulnerable zone. This means that over 19 million children are at risk of exposure to the harmful chemicals that these plants use, store and can emit when they produce plastics, pesticides, adhesives and other products.
Our neighborhoods in Houston are a case in point. The oil and gas facilities and chemical plants along the 52-mile Houston Ship Channel have turned the air in Harris County into a public health hazard, significantly increasing the likelihood of residents’ developing cancer and respiratory problems — and shortening the lives of children. Children living near the Houston Ship Channel are 56 percent more likely to develop leukemia than those who live more than 10 miles away.
To me this issue is personal. Yes, explosions from chemical facilities can be deadly. But the long-term impact of exposure to toxic chemicals also kills. In 2016, I was found to have hypersensitivity pneumonitis, a rare autoimmune system disorder that arises from breathing in dust or toxins repeatedly. The doctors blamed indoor air, but I am convinced that exposure to chemicals in Houston led to my condition. In this town, there’s little distinction between the air indoors and what’s outside.
When traveling — I am now at the U.N. Climate talks in Madrid — I bring a portable oxygen machine in case I need it. I am unable to walk long distances, and I move slowly because of my shortness of breath. Public speaking is difficult, as is any exertion. My life expectancy is not long (10 years, one doctor told me). I hope it is more.
In my family, lung diseases are the norm. My diagnosis came the same year that my father, Gregorio V. García, died of lung cancer at 79. He worked in the Asarco Refinery in Corpus Christi, Tex., and was a member of United Steelworkers for 30 years. Workers in these refineries are the first exposed to toxic substances. Many, like him, have died of cancer.
Plants like the nearby Valero facility emit a slew of poisonous chemicals like benzene and hydrogen cyanide into our neighborhoods. Far too often, they fail to meet Clean Air Act requirements.
During Hurricane Harvey in August 2017, I felt what it was like to breathe in a concentrated amount of toxic air. On the day of the worst flooding, my husband and I drove his pickup truck into Manchester to document what was happening at the Valero refinery. We saw water running from Valero into Hartman Park, where children gather to play baseball and soccer, and down the streets we knew well. As we drove, we had to cover our nose and mouth with our hands. My lips turned numb. The odor was so strong that it made me nauseated.
Three days later we found out that we had driven into one of the largest benzene spills. Benzene is clear, colorless and flammable. To date, this spill has not been adequately addressed by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
In Houston, we struggle to get chemical facilities to follow the law. We ask our state to protect us from chemicals that no one should breathe. Now the federal government is ending safeguards that the E.P.A. only a few years ago said the industry needed to protect the lives of workers, emergency medical workers and communities like mine.
My life should not be a pawn for leveraging industry profits. Nor should those of my neighbors and their children. Families and workers in these neighborhoods deserve to be safe.
As disasters continue to happen, we — those most affected, those who breathe and live and play in toxicity — condemn the E.P.A.’s decision to repeal the Chemical Disaster Rule. We are denied basic health protections simply because the industry does not want to invest in our safety.
Families and workers across the country should not have to pay the ultimate cost of this administration’s refusal to do its job: our lives.
Ana Parras is a co-executive director of Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (@tejasbarrios).