As Democrats make decisions about how to reduce the bill to $2 trillion, the fate of tens of billions of dollar for U.S. environmental justice programs that were originally included in a $3.5 trillion domestic expenditure package hangs in the balance.
The Build Back Better plan proposed investments in many of these projects. However, Senators Joe Manchin from West Virginia and Kyrsten Silema from Arizona demanded that this bill be reduced. Manchin asked for the bill to be cut by half.
Now, Democratic leaders seek to reconcile divergent views among progressive and moderate legislators over the bill’s size and scope. Republicans are in complete opposition to President Joe Biden’s proposal so Democrats will need to hold onto slim House and Senate majority numbers to pass it. Although leaders have given an Oct. 31 deadline for voting, this may be pushed back as they struggle to reach consensus.
A number of congressional aides spoke in background to discuss ongoing negotiations. While no one could give an estimate on how much environmental justice spending would be cut from reconciliation bills, they said that it was impossible to predict the exact amount. However, the total amount for such initiatives will certainly be lower than the $80 billion originally proposed.
The largest spending proposals included $20 billion to replace America’s lead water pipes and $15.5 billion to establish a greenhouse gas reduction fund. $10 billion was also proposed for expanding public transit access near affordable housing. Other initiatives included $5 billion in block grants for environmental and climate justice projects; $2.5 billion to provide solar access in low-income communities; and $2.5 Billion for cleanup of abandoned mines.
This high-stakes wrangling takes place two months after the United Nations International Panel on Climate Change declared the warming planet a code red for humanity. It also happens just weeks before Biden meets to discuss global climate and environmental policy at the U.N. Climate Change Summit known as COP26.
Environmental justice advocates across the country are closely monitoring domestic spending negotiations in Washington and lobbying legislators to keep as many of their initiatives and money as possible.
Ellen Sciales, Sunrise Movement’s communications director, stated that “when we hear that $3.5 trillion will get watered down… it’s honestly unacceptable.” “The urgency of the moment cannot be (overstated).
As the package is being reduced, activists are concerned that environmental justice projects that could improve the health of their communities will be sacrificed. Environmental justice projects that could benefit their communities’ health are at risk of being cut from the package, according to activists. It would be another broken promise from our elected officials.
Biden’s pledge to pass the “most ambitious environmental justice agenda” was a key point of emphasis for environmental advocates. He spoke at a news conference held in Flint, Michigan where residents have been struggling with lead contamination in their water systems since 2014.
Jhong-Chung stated that “our people are already struggling.” “And now, with the climate crisis in Michigan, things are getting worse. This summer, we just witnessed record-breaking flooding.
Water sanitation and scarcity are top priorities for those living in disadvantaged areas. Rural areas across the country lack modern sewage systems and sanitation systems. The West is dealing with a megadrought.
Catherine Flowers is a member of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council. She has long advocated for clean water systems and sanitation systems in rural areas.
She said, “When people talk of environmental justice they never talk about sanitation.” “The assumption that rural communities had always had sanitation was false.
Arizona’s drought has prompted some constituents of Senator Sinema to push her to pass the Build back Better plan. They even confronted her on campus at Arizona State University, where her professorship is.
Hannah Hurley, Sinema’s spokesperson, stated that she would not disclose the nature of negotiations on Capitol Hill for news media. Manchin, the other senator involved in negotiations about the plan, has repeatedly opposed incentives that favor clean energy over fossil fuels such as coal. His office didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Some senators from the West publicly support the plan’s environmental justice spending.
Sen. Alex Padilla (D.Calif.) stated that environmental justice is not an additional issue to climate action. It is the core of climate action. “We cannot ignore the inequities which leave communities of color behind and bear the brunt the climate crisis,” said Padilla.