Pledging to hold corporate polluters accountable for using poor communities as “dumping grounds” while wealthier Americans are able to breathe clean air, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee traveled on Monday to a Michigan community plagued by fossil fuel emissions to unveil his plan for environmental justice, should he made it to the Oval Office.
The 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, who is running on a climate action platform, stood in front of the Marathon Oil Refinery in Michigan’s most polluted ZIP code—48217 in Detroit—to announce his Community Climate Justice Plan.
“For too long we have allowed the forces of economic injustice and environmental racism to perpetuate inequality and lack of opportunity,” Inlsee said. “Now it is time to build environmental justice into everything we do. It’s time for the communities to have a partner in the White House.”
“Americans see climate change in the floodwater in their homes, the choking smoke from wildfires that envelop their skies and the devastating storms that hit their communities each year. They want us to act.”
—Washington Gov. Jay InsleeThe ZIP code has recently been the subject of a social media campaign called #Visit48217, which was launched by local organizers including Eastern Michigan Environmental Action Coalition and Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition.
“Democratic candidates should visit 48217 and talk [about the] Green New Deal while they’re in Detroit for next week’s debate,” wrote Antonio Rafael of the national grassroots group’s local chapter last week.
Under his proposal, Inslee would establish an Office of Environmental Justice within the U.S. Department of Justice. The office would oversee a nationwide “equity impact mapping” project to pinpoint the communities most affected by “pollution hotspots, economic inequality, and climate change impacts.”
The mapping program would offer a visual of the vast disparities between wealthy towns and communities like Detroit and so-called “Cancer Alley” in Louisiana, where the EPA has linked the cancer diagnosis risk—nearly 50 times the national average—to the proximity of a DuPont chemical plant which releases chloroprene.
On social media, Inslee shared a video accompanying his plan, featuring the stories he’s heard about environmental injustice around the country during his campaign.
“We have a high rate of asthma, a high rate of cancer,” one woman told Inslee in Detroit. “This just didn’t happen…This has been going on for decades.”
The new Justice Department office, which would replace the White House Council on Environmental Quality and would have a renewed focus on justice, would work with the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division to hold corporate polluters accountable for polluting surrounding communities and would support local governments and groups’ lawsuits against fossil fuel companies, Inslee said in his plan.
“For decades, corporate polluters have used lower-income communities as dumping grounds, and these communities now face an enormous and unequal burden from the costs of pollution and climate change,” Inslee’s proposal reads.
The Community Climate Justice Plan would also mandate that at least 40 percent of federal investments in Inslee’s Evergreen Economy Plan—more than $1 trillion—be directed to communities facing high level of air pollution from the oil, gas, and coal industries, which are often the same towns that have been subjected to decades of racial and economic inequality.
Inslee would also impose a nationwide ban on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), chemicals which are commonly used in food packaging and non-stick pans and which stay in the environment long after their use—currently polluting the drinking water of nearly 20 million Americans.
On Sunday, in a New York Times op-ed slamming Republicans and Democrats for persistently claiming that voters aren’t interested in hearing from candidates about the climate crisis, the Washington governor shared the stories of Americans he’s met during his campaign and “Climate Mission Tour.”
“I met Marsha Maus, who showed me the pile of melted aluminum that once was her mobile home in Agoura Hills, Calif.—before a wildfire tore through town,” wrote Inslee. “I heard from Shamar Pitts, who shared his worries about raising his newborn daughter near the pollution of an oil refinery in Philadelphia.”
“Americans see climate change in the floodwater in their homes, the choking smoke from wildfires that envelop their skies, and the devastating storms that hit their communities each year,” he added. “They want us to act.”