The U.S. House of Representatives voted today to approve legislation introduced by U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) that would require the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to identify and clean up 100 of the most heavily polluted communities in the country.
The measure, which aims to deliver environmental justice in some of the nation's most polluted communities, would require EPA to identify 100 low-income or predominantly minority communities that are suffering from an unusually high number of environmental-law violations. Once identified, the legislation would require that the agency then work directly with state and local officials to address the root causes of those violations and reduce pollution in those areas.
"Our nation's environmental laws were put in place to protect everyone equally," DeGette said. "Unfortunately, when those laws are broken, skirted or ignored, it is often the most vulnerable among us that pay the price. We're not going to sit back and allow these communities to continue to bear the brunt of this crisis. The federal government has a responsibility to protect all of its citizens, and we're going to ensure that everyone is getting the environmental protection they deserve.
Data shows that when environmental laws are not properly enforced it is often minority, low-income or otherwise disenfranchised communities that are hit hardest. While the federal government sets the nation's environmental standards, it is often up to each state's environmental agency to enforce them.
In addition to requiring that the EPA step in to help clean up some of the nation's most heavily polluted communities, the legislation also specifically requires that the agency take into consideration -- and address -- the cumulative negative health effects that can be caused by multiple sources of nearby pollution -- such as in Elyria-Swansea and Globeville, two north-Denver neighborhoods that are located in close proximity to a busy railyard, multiple major highways and several major industrial facilities, all of which add to the area's overall pollution.
While current EPA regulations require the agency to consider how each individual source of pollution could impact the health of nearby residents, it's not currently required to consider how the cumulative effect of multiple sources of pollution can impact a community.
The changes that would be required under DeGette's legislation would mark the first time that EPA is required to address the cumulative impact that multiple sources of pollution can have on an area.
The legislation, which the House approved today as part of a broader package to address the threat of wildfires, now heads to the Senate for consideration.