Equitable and Just National Climate Platform

Excerpt from the Washington Post 7/18/19

A coalition of more than 70 environmental and other progressive groups are publishing Thursday the outlines of what they want the next Democratic administration to do about climate change.

The broadly worded, 10-page document, called the “Equitable and Just National Climate Platform,” views with skepticism the sort of cap-and-trade schemes once pushed by congressional Democrats a decade ago and demands that any new climate policy address the disproportionate burden low-income and minority neighborhoods face when it comes to air and water pollution.

The platform is being released as Democratic presidential candidates are forming and beginning to present to voters their own ideas about how to address climate change.

“It’s actually a pretty historic platform,” said Cecilia Martinez, co-founder and executive director of the Minneapolis-based Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy who began last year spearheading the effort with CAP unite the two factions. “The major national organizations and environmental-justice groups have actually agreed to the essential policy points that have to be included and a national climate agenda.”

At the moment, the platform is more a statement of values than a list of specific policy proposals, one that in several ways echoes the economic and racial messages of the nonbinding Green New Deal resolution pushed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). The proposal doesn’t use that term, however.

The climate platform states that proposals aimed at reducing overall greenhouse-gas emissions in the United States should not unduly burden poor and minority communities with higher energy bills or more local pollution. It calls for any economic transition to cleaner forms of energy production to “create high-quality jobs with family-sustaining wages” and places special emphasis on improving drinking-water infrastructure in the wake of the contamination crisis in Flint, Mich.

And it states that to limit global warming to under 1.5 degrees Celsius over preindustrial levels, the United States “must firmly be on this path by 2030.”

“This agenda should be centered on innovative and equitable solutions with racial and economic justice as core goals and match the scale and urgency of the challenges we face,” the platform reads.

The roughly six dozen organizations also acknowledge what they see as the shortcomings of “market-based policies” pushed previously by Democrats. The platform calls for lawmakers to ensure any policy aimed at cutting nationwide greenhouse-gas emissions also reduces — rather than concentrates — pollution in non-white areas

Such a concentration of pollution in communities of color was a concern when House Democrats rallied around an ultimately unsuccessful cap-and-trade bill during Obama’s first year in office. Under such a plan, regulators would have set up a market in which companies bought and sold credits permitting them to release carbon into the atmosphere. 

At the time, Peggy Shepard, co-founder and executive director of the Harlem-based WE ACT for Environmental Justice, and others in the environmental-justice community worried such a mechanism would concentrate sources of pollution in the places it was cheapest to pollute — theirs.

“I think sometimes the climate movement loses sight about just regular environmental quality,” Shepard said.

In the past, larger environmental groups weathered criticism from environmental-justice organizations that the broader green movement is too white and too male — and that lack of racial diversity within their ranks has led them to pursue policies that sometimes overlook communities of color. 

“People want to see people from their community who know about these issues and are telling them it’s important — not just a white person from a green group,” Shepard said.

Sara Chieffo, the vice president for government affairs at the League of Conservation Voters, expects Democrats on Capitol Hill to take notice of the platform. “We’re optimistic about the reception in Congress, where environmental justice caucuses now exist in both chambers and where there is growing momentum for action on climate change,” she said.

To that end, the coalition has taken out newspaper ads in Politico and the Detroit Free Press on Thursday.

Similarly on the campaign trail, 2020 Democratic contenders are incorporating language into their climate plans acknowledging how racial minorities tend to face disproportionately higher air and water pollution.

In his climate platform, former vice president Joe Biden wrote the nation “cannot turn a blind eye to the way in which environmental burdens and benefits have been and will continue to be distributed unevenly along racial and socioeconomic lines.” And former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke noted race is “the number one indicator for where toxic and polluting facilities are today.”

This platform lays out a bold national climate policy agenda that advances the
goals of economic, racial, climate, and environmental justice. The platform identifies
areas where the undersigned environmental justice (EJ) and national groups
are aligned on desired outcomes for the national climate policy agenda. The
platform also lays the foundation for our organizations to vastly improve the way
we work together to advance ambitious and equitable national climate policies
and to work through remaining differences.
The vision for an inclusive
and just climate agenda
The United States needs bold new leadership that will prioritize tackling the
nation’s pressing environmental and social problems. To do this, our country
needs leadership that is committed to implementing an ambitious national EJ
and climate policy agenda. This agenda should be centered on innovative and
equitable solutions with racial and economic justice as core goals and match the
scale and urgency of the challenges we face. We must put our nation on an ambitious
emissions reduction path in order to contribute equitably to global efforts
to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. To be successful, we must firmly be
on this path by 2030. This agenda must seize the opportunity and imperative to
rebuild and rebalance the economy so that it works for all people.
In order to achieve these goals, we must mobilize all of our assets—communities,
all levels of government, science and research, and businesses and industry—
toward the development of just, equitable, and sustainable long-term comprehensive
solutions. We must challenge ourselves to advance solutions in ways
that meaningfully involve and value the voices and positions of EJ frontline and
fenceline communities. To do this, bold new leadership must develop inclusive
strategies that acknowledge and repair the legacy of environmental harms on
communities inflicted by fossil fuel and other industrial pollution. Our vision is
that all people and all communities have the right to breathe clean air, live free of
dangerous levels of toxic pollution, access healthy food, and share the benefits of
a prosperous and vibrant clean economy.
By building a just, inclusive, and climate-sustainable economy, this agenda will
create millions of high-quality, safe, and family-sustaining jobs while improving the
health, physical environment, prosperity, and well-being of all U.S. communities.
This agenda will drive big and sustained government and private investments to
curb carbon and toxic pollution; create diverse and inclusive economic opportunities;
and address the legacy pollution that has burdened tribal communities, communities
of color, and low-income communities. This agenda will also ensure that
the transition to a clean economy does not negatively affect community livelihoods.
We understand that the problem of climate change is the result of decades
of operations of a carbon-based economy, including highly energy-intensive
buildings as well as industrial and transportation infrastructure. Because of the
continued delay to act at the scale needed to curb carbon pollution, the risks to
communities at home and around the globe are increasing at unprecedented levels,
including more intense heat waves, more powerful storms and floods, more
deadly wildfires, and more devastating droughts. To achieve our goals, we will
need to overcome past failures that have led us to the crisis conditions we face
today. These past failures include the perpetuation of systemic inequalities that
have left communities of color, tribal communities, and low-income communities
exposed to the highest levels of toxic pollution and the most burdened and
affected by climate change. The defining environmental crisis of our time now
demands an urgency to act. Yet this urgency must not displace or abandon the
fundamental principles of democracy and justice.
To effectively address climate change, the national climate policy agenda must
drive actions that result in real benefits at the local and community level, including
pollution reduction, affordable and quality housing, good jobs, sustainable livelihoods,
and community infrastructure. This will require a realignment of public
dollars at all levels toward policy structures that rely heavily on holistic nonmarket-
based regulatory mechanisms that explicitly account for local impacts.1 We
understand that progress will be needed on multiple fronts and require the use of a
combination of policy tools. We favor policy tools that help achieve both local and
national emissions reductions of carbon and other forms of pollution. The shift to a
non-greenhouse gas future will require substantial new forms of capital investment
by both the public and private sectors to build a new national infrastructure as well
as democratic community participation to help set infrastructure investment priorities.
Unless justice and equity are central components of our climate agenda, the
inequality of the carbon-based economy will be replicated in the new economy.
We understand that there are EJ concerns about carbon trading and other
market-based policies. These concerns include the fact that these policies do not
guarantee emissions reduction in EJ communities and can even allow increased
emissions in communities that are already disproportionately burdened with
pollution and substandard infrastructure. In order to ensure climate solutions are
equitable, support for climate research that assesses how policies affect overburdened
and vulnerable communities is essential.
An equitable and just
national climate agenda
To effectively build an inclusive, just, and clean-energy economy, the national
climate agenda must achieve the following:
All communities have a right to live free from exposure to dangerous toxic pollution
in their soil as well as in the air they breathe, the food they eat, and the water
they drink. Yet persistent racial and economic inequalities—and the forces that
cause them—embedded throughout our society have concentrated toxic polluters
near and within communities of color, tribal communities, and low-income
communities. These underlying social forces, including persistent and systematic
racial discrimination and economic inequality, have created disproportionately
high environmental and public health risks in these areas relative to wealthier
white neighborhoods. The national climate policy agenda must address this
environmental injustice head-on by prioritizing climate solutions and other policies
that also reduce pollution in these legacy communities at the scale needed to
significantly improve their public health and quality of life. The agenda must also
build the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to fulfill its mission to protect
the nation’s health and the environment by developing and enforcing effective
regulations for all communities.
The devastating and costly consequences of climate change threaten the health,
safety, and livelihoods of people across the country. Generations of economic and
social injustice have put communities on the frontlines of climate change effects.
The national climate policy agenda must have as its foundation policies that
reduce greenhouse gas emissions and locally harmful air pollution at the ambitious
scale and speed needed to avoid the worst and most costly health impacts,
especially for the most vulnerable communities and communities coping with
the legacy pollution from the present economy. This includes reducing emissions
in low-income areas and communities of color—EJ communities—through a
suite of policies, including climate mitigation policy. The agenda must mobilize
vast new resources to reduce carbon pollution, curb locally harmful pollution,
and build resilience to improve the health, safety, and livability of all communities
in a climate-changed world.
History shows that environmental regulation does not necessarily mean
healthy environments for all communities. Many communities suffer from
the cumulative effects of multiple pollution sources. A national climate policy
agenda that addresses climate pollution must not abandon or diminish the
important goal of reducing toxic pollution in all its forms. Climate solutions
must be part of a comprehensive approach to reducing legacy environmental
and economic impacts on communities and be designed intentionally to ensure
that they do not impose further risks. Strategies to address climate change
must not disproportionately benefit some communities while imposing costs
on others. In fact, the national climate policy agenda should be used to reduce
the disproportionate amount of pollution that is often found in EJ communities
and that is associated with cumulative impacts, public health risks, and other
persistent challenges.
The shift to a sustainable, just, and equitable energy future requires innovative
forms of investment and governance that distribute the benefits of this transition
equitably and justly. This includes investing in the development of innovative
decentralized models of energy provision; community governance and ownership;
incorporation of social and health benefits into energy systems planning;
incentivizing the inclusion of equity into future energy investment through
public programs; and supporting public and private research and development to
include equity considerations in new technology development.
The national climate policy agenda must drive a rapid shift toward a pollutionfree,
inclusive, and just economy as well as create high-quality jobs with familysustaining
wages and safe and healthy working conditions. Breaking down the
barriers that produce unemployment and underemployment must be a priority.
Workers must be treated fairly and supported through investments in workforce
and job training programs, especially in communities with disproportionately
high underemployed and unemployed populations and in communities that have
been historically reliant on fossil fuel extraction and energy production.
The national climate policy agenda must significantly reduce domestic energy
vulnerability and poverty by addressing the problem of high energy cost burdens.
To live and prosper in today’s society, access to affordable, reliable, and sustainable
energy is a basic need in daily life and fundamental to achieving rights
related to health, environmental quality, education, and food and income security.
Given the disparities in the housing stock and infrastructure across communities,
it is imperative that future energy systems provide affordable energy access
that ensures a healthy standard of living that provides for the basic needs of children
and families. The nation needs bold new leadership that will ensure access
to sustainable energy, including by supporting investments in cooperative and
nonprofit energy organizations; community and stakeholder engagement and
participation in energy planning; public-private partnerships; and renewable and
energy efficiency demonstration projects in our most vulnerable communities.
As a major contributor to climate and air pollution, we must build the next
century’s transportation system to ensure healthy air quality for all communities.
This will require massive investment in affordable, reliable, and environmentally
sustainable transportation. As with other sectors, the transportation system has a
direct effect on economic and social opportunities. Public resources and planning
decisions affect patterns of urban development and the structure of local economies,
including where jobs and employment are located. The transportation sector
is also responsible for providing accessibility to basic human needs. Therefore,
transportation planning must ensure affordable transportation that provides for
community members’ mobility and access to daily activities and services, including
jobs, education, health care, affordable housing, and social networks.
Clean and affordable energy and transportation through an increased and appropriate
level of new federal investment in zero-emissions transportation options
for all community members in both rural and urban areas must be a priority.
This includes programs to scale up investment in public transit; zero-emissions
transit buses, diesel trucks, and school buses; and accessible and affordable adoption
of electric cars. We also need smart planning that will make our communities
safe for pedestrian and bicycle travel.
The goods movement system that distributes raw materials and consumer products
currently relies on diesel engines that produce emissions that have significant
health and environmental effects on workers and members of surrounding
communities. A national climate policy agenda must reduce pollution by advancing
a zero-emissions goods movement transportation system to protect the health
of workers as well as fenceline and frontline communities and ensure that they
benefit from new clean transportation technology development.
Climate change exacerbates existing vulnerabilities and creates new risks in our
communities. As a result, climate change presents historic challenges to human
health and our quality of life. Communities across the country need a national
climate policy agenda that will mobilize the massive investments necessary to
prepare for climate change impacts. Climate solutions provide opportunities for
localized benefits that enhance the quality of life for all communities, including
by improving local air quality, access to healthy food, local economic development,
public health, and community vitality.
We need to build housing and infrastructure that can withstand more powerful
storms, floods, heat waves, cold snaps, and wildfires; reduce carbon and air
pollution in areas with high cumulative pollution; build a more sustainable food
and agricultural system; and expand access to family-sustaining jobs and other
economic opportunities. As climate change deteriorates air quality, increases
vector-borne disease and allergens, and contributes to a host of other public
health threats, we must ensure full access to health care for all. The national
climate policy agenda must prioritize investments in communities that are the
most vulnerable to climate change, including in health monitoring and research
to provide rigorous and reliable research on our progress.
A national climate policy agenda must acknowledge the continuing increase
in wealth and income inequality that plagues our communities. This growing
wealth gap makes inclusive local economic development a priority for communities
and governments. Economic diversification is critical to effectively address
climate change and reduce economic and social vulnerability. We must create and
support strategies that shift away from high pollution products and production
processes toward those that are low-emission and sustainable. This also includes
investments in innovative and worker-supported economic organizations such as
cooperatives and other community wealth-building strategies.
A national climate policy agenda must ensure that sustainable investments for
both mitigation and adaptation do not impose costs—both social and otherwise—
on overburdened and vulnerable communities. Therefore, it is essential that we
as a nation invest resources to eliminate barriers to and provide affordable and
safe housing for all community members. It is imperative that new investments in
resilient infrastructure in communities that have been historically disinvested be a
national priority.
Climate-related events are already having severe and often devastating effects on
communities, including requiring people to evacuate and relocate out of harm’s
way. These types of events are expected to become even more intense and damaging
in the future. Leaders at all levels of government must recognize their duty
and responsibility to support displaced families to return to their communities
or to relocate to places of their choosing.2 This includes prioritizing public and
private investments to rebuild affordable and accessible housing and transportation
for residents who have been displaced due to climate and other disaster
events—including those with the least resources and ability to respond—and to
ensure that displaced people can participate in the planning and management
of their return or relocation.
To effectively address the steady rise in climate-related and other disasters, the
national climate policy agenda must support equitable and responsive relocation
planning and investment in the wake of such events as well as proactively
help to protect communities from climate change effects and displacement. In
places exposed to extreme climate risks, planned relocation must provide for
the improvement of community members’ living standards. Social cohesion is a
foundation for community well-being, and, therefore, relocation must strive to
maintain and support family unity as well as community and kinship ties. The
economic and social disruption to communities that require relocation have significant
health, economic, and emotional impacts. It is imperative that relocated
community members have access to a full range of health and economic services
and the right to choose their residence.
Climate change affects the water cycle, which in turn affects the nation’s water
quality and supply. The nation’s drinking water infrastructure is already in dire
need of massive investment. The national climate policy agenda requires solutions
that take into account the effects of climate change on this stressed water
infrastructure. As we develop climate solutions, we must focus on avoiding those
which impair or burden aquifers, lakes, rivers, and oceans.
A comprehensive infrastructure plan that will focus on water and other basic
necessities—specifically for communities that have already experienced significant
health and economic impacts—is of the highest priority. Investments must
prioritize communities that are already affected by inadequate, harmful, and
health-impairing water infrastructure. Bold new leadership is needed to ensure
that all community members have access to safe, clean, and affordable drinking
water as well as to maintain and protect water as a common resource. Access to
clean water is a basic human right that we must protect for all children and families.
As we develop climate solutions, we must avoid those that harm or burden
oceans, lakes, rivers, and waterways.
A national climate policy agenda must be predicated on the principle that land is
fundamental to the exercise of community self-determination. Land is integrally
tied to community and cultural identity, and its use is directly related to community
members’ ability to meet their social, economic, and cultural needs. Urban
and rural development and redevelopment must not lead to greater socioeconomic
gaps or escalating costs that displace community members. These projects
must result in lower pollution emissions for the surrounding community. It is
imperative that programs and initiatives to protect and redevelop the environment
promote community wealth building and economic diversity that directly
benefit local community residents.
A national climate policy agenda must include funding for climate research on
equity and climate issues. This research must effectively address equity and justice
in climate planning and policy and be at a scale and level of rigor that has been
historically invested in previous carbon-mitigation policies and programs. Public
and private supporters of these past efforts have a moral obligation to also invest in
the needs of communities that have been made vulnerable by past environmental,
energy, and economic policies. If we do not sufficiently fund and perform EJ and
equity research as it relates to climate change, then climate change policy and
research has a significant potential to perpetuate and even exacerbate inequalities
rooted in race and income.
We must aim to limit global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius over
preindustrial levels by 2050. The national climate policy agenda must ensure that
the United States acts effectively, responsibly, equitably, and justly to achieve this
goal. This requires advancing global climate justice, including by committing to
even more ambitious emission reduction goals in the future to contribute our fair
share in the global effort to stabilize the climate system, and committing financial
resources for least-developed nations to cope with the impacts of climate change.
We must do this by radically scaling up both U.S. domestic actions and international
cooperation in ways that end poverty and inequality; build sustainable
communities and cities; improve public health and well-being; and reach universal
achievement of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.3
1 Consistent with language on nonmarket
approaches in Article 6, paragraph
8, of the Paris Agreement. See U.N.
Framework Convention on Climate
Change, “Paris Agreement” (2015),
available at https://unfccc.int/sites/
2 Consistent with U.N. Commission on
Human Rights Guiding Principles on
Internal Displacement, Section V. See
Internal Displacement Monitoring
Centre, “OCHA Guiding Principles on
Internal Displacement” (1998), available
at http://www.internal-displacement.
3 For the U.N. Sustainable Development
Goals, see The Global Goals For Sustainable
Development, “The 17 Goals,”
available at https://www.globalgoals.
org (last accessed June 2019).
Organizations signed on
to the platform
• Center for American Progress
• Center for Earth, Energy and
Democracy, Minnesota
• Center for the Urban Environment,
John S. Watson Institute for Public
Policy, Thomas Edison State
University, New Jersey
• Deep South Center for
Environmental Justice, Louisiana
• Earthjustice
• Environmental Justice Health
Alliance for Chemical Policy
Reform, National
• Harambee House–Citizens for
Environmental Justice, Georgia
• League of Conservation Voters
• Little Village Environmental
Justice Organization, Illinois
• Los Jardines Institute, New Mexico
• Michigan Environmental Justice
Coalition, Michigan
• Midwest Environmental Justice
Network, Midwest
• Natural Resources Defense Council
• New Jersey Environmental Justice
Alliance, New Jersey
• ReGenesis Project, South Carolina
• Sierra Club
• Tishman Environment and Design
Center at the New School,
New York
• Union of Concerned Scientists
• WE ACT for Environmental Justice,
New York
• 2BRIDGE CDX / BTB Coalition,
Washington D.C.
• Agricultura Cooperative Network,
New Mexico
• Alaska Community Action on
Toxics, Alaska
• Black Environmental Collective-
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
• Black Millennials 4 Flint,
Washington D.C.
• Black Youth Leadership
Development Institute, National
• Center on Race, Poverty and the
Environment, California
• Citizens for Melia, Louisiana
• Clean Power Lake County, Illinois
• Coalition of Community
Organizations, Texas
• Community Housing and
Empowerment Connections,
• Community Members for
Environmental Justice, Minnesota
• Concerned Citizens Coalition of
Long Branch, New Jersey
• Concerned Citizens of Wagon
Mound and Mora County,
New Mexico
• Connecticut Coalition for
Environmental Justice, Connecticut
• Dakota Wicohan, Minnesota
• Delaware Concerned Residents for
Environmental Justice, Delaware
• Dr. Cesar G. Abarca, California
• Dr. Fatemeh Shafiei, Georgia
• Dr. Marisol Ruiz, California
• Dr. Robert Bullard, Texas
• East Michigan Environmental
Action Council, Michigan
• Eduardo Aguiar, Puerto Rico
• El Chante: Casa de Cultura,
New Mexico
• Farmworker Association of Florida,
• Flint Rising, Michigan
• Georgia Statewide Network for
Environmental Justice and Equity,
• Greater Newark Conservancy,
New Jersey
• Green Door Initiative, Michigan
• Greenfaith, New Jersey
• Ironbound Community Corporation,
New Jersey
• Jesus People Against Pollution,
• Las Pistoleras Instituto Cultural
de Arte, New Mexico
• Lenape Indian Tribe of Delaware,
• Louisiana Democracy Project,
• Minority Workforce Development
Coalition, Delaware
• Mossville Community in Action,
• Native Justice Coalition, Michigan
• Organizacion en California de
Lideres Campesinas, Inc., California
• Partnership for Southern Equity,
• People Concerned About
Chemical Safety, West Virginia
• People for Community Recovery,
• PODER, Texas
• Reverend Canon Lloyd S. Casson,
• Rubbertown Emergency ACTion,
• Tallahassee Food Network, Florida
• Texas Coalition of Black Democrats,
• Texas Drought Project, Texas
• Texas Environmental Justice
Advocacy Services, Texas
• The Wise Choice, Inc., Illinois
• Tradish “Traditional Real Foods,”
New Mexico
• Tusconians for a Clean Environment,
• UrbanKind Institute, Pennsylvania
• We the People of Detroit, Michigan
• West County Toxics Coalition,
• Wisconsin Green Muslims,