Biden must take executive action to say clean water is a human right


the The US Senate recently passed the Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act. The legislation creates a $ 35 billion fund that will allow states and tribes to make urgent improvements to their water systems, with additional considerations for frontline communities. This kind of commitment to environmental justice is welcome, but also long overdue.

Drinking water infrastructure has suffered systemic neglect in communities across the U.S. In Jackson, Mississippi, residents recently had to boil water for drinkingand thousands of them did not have access to unsafe water to use the toilet. Unfortunately, these upsetting circumstances are common, especially in communities of color.

Millions of Americans live the dire consequences of toxic drinking water, which negatively affects the quality of life and can lead to debilitating health effects over a lifetime.

Black and brown communities feel the weight of this burden. Studies show that drinking water systems in communities of color are 40 percent more likely to violate drinking water standards than in non-black and non-brown communities. It’s environmental racism. And it destroys countless lives.

Like most forms of racism, high-profile tragedies like Flint, Michigan grab the headlines. But often it’s a slow, silent and deadly progression that ravages communities of color.

A recent study found that black children from families living below the poverty line are more than twice as likely to have high levels of lead in their blood than white or Hispanic children living below the poverty line.

For decades, oil refineries along the Mississippi River have polluted local waters with carcinogenic petrochemicals. In Louisiana’s predominantly black communities, there are more than 150 of these refineries, located between New Orleans and Baton Rouge in what has been worryingly dubbed “Cancer Alley” due to the refineries that spit out chemicals. dangerous in water.

Environmental racism also persists in vulnerable communities surrounding chemical storage and industrial sites, where toxic floodwaters caused by storms or climatic events carry heavy metals, oil and gas into yards. local water. Those affected by these floods often face immediate health problems, including headaches, dizziness, and eye and throat irritation.

These toxic floodwaters most often affect black and brown communities. A report co-authored by the Center for Progressive Reform and the James River Association revealed that more than 473,000 Virginians live in communities that are both highly vulnerable and contain industrial facilities prone to flooding. Like the damage caused by oil refineries, these floods can pose significant long-term health problems for communities.

We have made slow progress in tackling other forms of institutional racism, but we are only beginning to consider the cost of environmental racism. Flint has been a wake-up call, but not enough has been done to solve the fundamental problems or to hold the authors accountable.

Black and brown communities don’t have the luxury of sweeping the issue under the rug. These communities live with the consequences of environmental racism on a daily basis. The impacts on quality of life and health are just beginning to be detected.

The federal government has recognized the peril caused by environmental racism – the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Environmental Assessment Center has concluded that non-white communities are disproportionately exposed to the effects of pollution about health. Fortunately, we now have an administration signaling its intention to make decisions based on truth, fact and science. President Biden has said environmental justice will become a central tenet of his administration, and prioritized investments in drinking water infrastructure and fight against the impacts of climate change in its Rebuild Better plan.

Yet environmental racism is an abuse that has lasted for decades in this country. The action must come now. It is imperative that Biden continues to take immediate executive action to reverse this horrific and systemic damage. The administration must also make up for lost time by prioritizing the enforcement of our environmental laws for the benefit of communities whose health and well-being have too often been an afterthought.

The Biden administration has offered signs of hope. A reversal on the Bears Ears National Monument and the Keystone XL Pipeline is encouraging. Another good start is the appointment of Deb Haaland, the first Native American to hold a cabinet post, to head the Home Office.

But these good intentions must become a firm reality.

The Biden administration must immediately implement its own agenda, including enabling a more aggressive EPA to accelerate the remediation and cleanup of hazardous waste in frontline communities that have long borne the burden; establish a Environmental and Climate Justice Division to the Department of Justice to ensure that environmental tragedies like those experienced in Flint do not happen again and that environmental offenders are held fully accountable for the violence they unleash on their victims; overhauling and strengthening the EPA’s External Civil Rights Compliance Office with more staff and resources and a directive to focus on environmental justice to protect communities from climate change; and impose more stringent oversight. A more fully engaged Office of Environmental Justice would also help address these urgent and necessary changes.

The stakes are too high for black and brown communities. Too many lives are expected to give priority to polluting profits. Look at Flint, or the other marginalized communities where something as vital as clean water is not guaranteed.

Enough is enough.

Clean water is a human right. It’s time to start treating it like one.

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