Environmental Justice Must be a Part of Obama's Climate Action Plan

December 20, 2013 | 2:58 pm
Rachel Cleetus
Policy Director

There’s a lot to like in President Obama’s climate action plan. It commits his administration to some important steps forward on addressing the challenge of climate change, both by lowering U.S. carbon emissions and by helping build resilience to climate impacts. But there’s one glaring omission that needs to be rectified as the plan goes into implementation: it needs to include environmental justice and equity concerns for low-income communities and communities of color.

Sign the petition asking the White house to include environmental justice concerns

Yesterday UCS joined the efforts of a large number of environmental justice groups in asking our members and supporters to consider signing on to a petition requesting the White House to amend the plan to include environmental justice considerations. 100,000 signatures are needed by December 29 to ensure that the White house provides a response to this petition. We need your help to get this across the finish line!

The significance of the President’s climate action plan

The President’s climate action plan, announced on June 25, 2013, is commendable in the breadth of its focus. It includes a commitment to setting standards to curtail global warming emissions from power plants, investing in renewable energy, taking measures to help communities build resilience to climate impacts already unfolding, and forging international partnerships to lower GHG emissions. Equally important was the role Obama took in his June 2013 speech in elevating the science of climate change and its impacts.

In the absence of action from Congress and a rise in efforts to deny climate science (often funded by fossil fuel interests), this was a long-awaited breath of fresh air.

Steps taken to implement the climate action plan

Subsequent to the release of the plan, there have been a number of steps taken by various agencies, including the EPA, the Department of Energy (DOE), and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), to begin to implement it. These include the announcement of the EPA’s carbon standards for new power plants and the launch of a process for arriving at a draft standard for existing power plants by June 2014; a commitment to federal investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency; DOE loans guarantees to promote low-carbon energy sources; and HUD recommendations for climate resiliency post-Sandy.

Why environmental justice is central to tackling climate change

The fact is that both here in the U.S., and around the world, the burden of the impacts of climate change fall disproportionately on low-income communities and communities of color. In a sense this is no different than the long history of environmental injustices these communities have confronted on other fronts — be it in the siting of polluting industries and  toxic landfills, contamination of water, or the struggle for recognition and recompense for the consequent health impacts these communities, particularly their children, suffer. Let’s not make a sorry repetition of this as we address climate change.

I think the Obama administration understands this implicitly and has taken steps in the past to elevate environmental justice. Key agencies like the EPA certainly do. But now is the time to make a high-level public commitment that environmental justice will be central to both the mitigation and the resilience-building priorities identified in the climate action plan.

Show your support

A climate action plan without environmental justice would be like a public health plan for reducing asthma rates that didn’t consider its particularly pernicious impact on children (especially poorer children and children of color). This is simply the most common-sense, fair, and ethical thing to do. Please sign the petition to show your support.