Our communities will face significant environmental challenges in 2022. In the midst of a climate crisis and environmental injustice, our country — and the planet — begins a key year to remedy, or at least mitigate, the great catastrophes of the future. Although President Biden and his administration have made promises to address these emergencies, they are not able to deliver on their promises. We need concrete action.
One of them is the approval of the bill known as the “Build Back Better Act”, or BBBA. The Senate is still negotiating the BBBA. It could be the most important legislation in social services and infrastructure in almost 100 years. The law would help families in need with education and access for health services. It would also invest in technology that monitors and cleans up the environment. It would also invest billions to replace lead pipes, which continue to supply 22 million people with potentially polluted water. It will also provide hundreds of million of dollars to clean up toxic and polluting waste and monitor air quality. It will also accelerate the transition towards renewable energy if public and school electric transport are supported.
It all depends on the Senate passing the bill and the Biden administration applying these measures fairly. Based on our own experience, low-income communities of colour are those who have inherited the greatest amount of industrial pollution damage and exclusion from basic services.
The work must start in these communities if we are to find solutions for our environmental crises. The Biden administration must deliver on its promise to invest at least 40% of federal resources in low-income communities of color – what it called Justice 40 – and address environmental injustice and the climate crisis.
Federal investments must be accompanied in reducing pollution and establishing strict limits on the energy, chemical, and plastic industries to eliminate or reduce emissions. This is true for industries like mining, which pollute rivers, oceans and lakes. These measures are extensive but can most easily be implemented by the Administration without the approval of Congress. These initiatives start with limiting the emissions of toxics like mercury, lead, and other pollutants so small that no filter is able to capture them. It is equally important to eliminate toxic pesticides, such as organophosphates. They continue to poison not only consumers, but also millions upon millions of agricultural workers, and their families.
In 2022, another opportunity to improve the environment is to stop investing fossil energy. To counter the current crisis, energy extraction from coal, oil, and gas will continue to be a problem. Biden must make real changes to federal policies that favor dirty industries. He should reverse decisions like granting rights for oil extraction off the Gulf of Mexico coast. He should also avoid bogus alternatives such as the petrochemical or natural gas industry. Your government should stop investing in these projects and make changes to existing laws to favor the most vulnerable.
We have to pay attention to issues that influence all kinds of policies – in addition to environmental ones – such as the protection of the right to vote and the access and transparency of political and civil processes, particularly for historically disadvantaged communities that tend to be of color and immigrants. . It is crucial to increase the federal government’s ability to implement environmental protection measures in our laws, and to punish industries that don’t respect them.
Also, racism and colonialism must be eliminated. To achieve zero-emissions energy, Puerto Rico’s political system must be equitably reformated.
These measures require a lot of effort from both the federal government and the public to make 2022 a landmark year. We have no time left to face the environmental crises facing us. We must act quickly. We, our children and future generations will pay a terrible price for not doing so and be judged for failing to prevent an environmental catastrophe.
Raúl García is the legislative director for healthy communities for Earthjustice.