Home Climate justice Markey, Merkley and colleagues highlight environmental justice concerns about permitting legislation and the need for stand-alone review

Markey, Merkley and colleagues highlight environmental justice concerns about permitting legislation and the need for stand-alone review

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Given our nation’s history of environmental inequity, any changes to permitting processes should strengthen — not crush — public participation and add protections for frontline communities.

Washington (September 22, 2022) Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) today joined his colleagues led by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) in sending a letter to Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (DN. Y.) expressing concern about the impact the recently released proposal to change the federal permitting process for fossil fuel projects will have on communities of color, frontline communities, and other disadvantaged communities. The letter was also signed by Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Cory Booker (DN.J.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Ben Cardin (D- Md.), and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).

“For many years, siting decisions for major infrastructure projects have essentially prioritized the perceived societal benefits of fossil fuel energy over the very real costs borne disproportionately by communities of color, communities low-income and others who have been traditionally marginalized”, write the Senators. “The result has been the destruction of homes and neighborhoods, the loss of wealth in these communities, lasting health consequences and premature deaths. Environmental justice advocates are pushing policymakers to address our country’s failure to take the contribution of environmental justice communities more seriously, but we still have a lot of work to do.

The senators’ letter notes the concerns of the environmental justice community about the proposed reforms and the implications of these permits:

“We also share the concerns of the environmental justice community that the proposed reforms could reduce the ability of affected stakeholders and state, federal and tribal governments to thoroughly analyze proposed projects and undermine judicial review,” they continued. “Given our nation’s history of environmental inequity, any changes to permitting processes should strengthen — not crush — public participation and add protections for frontline communities.”

The senators concluded by emphasizing that such important issues deserve serious debate and consideration, regardless of the urgent need to pass legislation keeping open government before September 30.e.

“The environmental justice community has reason to believe that changing the policies that shape how energy projects are considered will have profound impacts on their overall health, prosperity, well-being and quality of life. We agree and believe that such important issues should be considered in full committee scrutiny and in-depth indoor debate, regardless of the urgent need to ensure that government remains open,” they conclude.

The full text of the letter can be found here and follows below:

Dear Chief Schumer,

We have heard many concerns from the environmental justice community about the proposed permitting reforms and we are writing to convey the importance of these concerns and to let you know that we share them.

For many years, siting decisions for major infrastructure projects have essentially prioritized the perceived societal benefits of fossil fuel energy over the very real costs borne disproportionately by communities of color, communities with low income and others who have been traditionally marginalized. The result has been the destruction of homes and neighborhoods, the loss of wealth in these communities, lasting health consequences and premature deaths. Environmental justice advocates are pushing policymakers to address our nation’s failure to take the contribution of environmental justice communities more seriously, but we still have a lot of work to do. We share the concerns of frontline communities and communities of color that the proposed licensing reforms are taking us in the wrong direction.

Congressional approval of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, the weakening of the National Environmental Policy Act, and the weakening of the state’s ability to protect water quality under the Clean Water Act will limit the contribution of the public and will cause additional pollution, disproportionately affecting people who are already directly harmed. We also share the concerns of the environmental justice community that the proposed reforms could reduce the ability of affected stakeholders and state, federal, and tribal governments to thoroughly analyze proposed projects and undermine judicial review. Given our country’s history of environmental inequity, any changes to permitting processes should strengthen — not crush — public participation and add protections for frontline communities.

During this Congress, we have made significant investments to elevate environmental justice communities, including dramatically increasing funding to address past harms and resources to ensure that environmental justice communities can share in the benefits of a just transition to renewable energy. In addition to funding, however, transparency and the ability for potentially affected communities to have prior, informed, and meaningful participation and consideration are fundamental to ensuring environmental justice. A number of the proposed licensing reforms would do just the opposite. The environmental justice community is justified in its belief that changing the policies that shape how energy projects are viewed will have profound implications for their overall health, prosperity, well-being, and quality of life. We agree and believe that such important issues should be considered through full committee scrutiny and full room debate, regardless of the urgent need to ensure that government remains open.

We believe our caucus broadly shares the goal of advancing climate justice by repairing past harm done to frontline and low-income communities, and ensuring that such harm is not inflicted in the future. We look forward to working with jurisdictional leaders and committees, as well as the environmental justice community on these important civil rights priorities.

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