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“Harming Communities of Color” Explains Why Republican Attacks on NEPA are an Environmental Justice Issue

On October 2, Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee published “Harming Communities of Color” to commemorate Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 to October 15). The publication shows how protecting the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) will protect Latinos and other marginalized communities, and criticizes Republicans for an April hearing on the “weaponization of NEPA.”

Environmental justice is not a new idea. The publication begins by explaining how civil rights leaders such as Cesar Chavez pushed for environmental protection as part of social justice. Hispanics are 165 percent more likely than non-Latino whites to live in “counties with unhealthy levels of power plant pollution.” Furthermore, Latinos are more vulnerable to extreme heat and weather, smog and air pollution, and insect-related infectious diseases. But thanks to NEPA, community activists in Arecibo, Puerto Rico successfully opposed a waste incineration plant, which was going to be built in their already heavily polluted neighborhood. Additionally, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe used NEPA to sue Keystone XL.

In a hearing last April, Republicans compared NEPA to “environmental lawfare” and “weaponization.” This is an attack on one of the strongest defenses that communities of color have against harmful pollution and exploitation. The City Project and Green Latinos submitted comments to the House Natural Resources Committee in April, opposing this description. We reject the misuse of the term “lawfare” as applied to NEPA. “‘Lawfare’ is the manipulation of the legal system against an enemy with the  intent to damage or delegitimize them, waste their time and resources, or to score a public relations victory.” The misuse of ‘lawfare’ misstates the facts and the experience of NEPA as applied for over 40 years. NEPA should be protected because, coupled with enforcement of civil rights and environmental justice laws, it re-enforces power to the people.