Jun 3, 2020 - Energy & Environment

The growing focus on environmental justice could influence Biden's platform

Illustration of someone holding a tree.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The killing of George Floyd in police custody and protests against systemic racism are prompting many green groups to declare their support for racial justice, and one thing to watch now is how this all might influence Joe Biden's platform.

Driving the news: Even before the recent mass upheaval in response to Floyd's death, Biden said he was expanding outreach and eyeing wider plans around environmental justice, or the disproportionate pollution burdens facing poor communities and people of color.

  • But now the topic is growing even more prominent, which also stems from the pandemic.
  • Yesterday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee announced a June 9 hearing on “Pollution and Pandemics: COVID-19’s Disproportionate Impact on Environmental Justice Communities.”  

What we're watching: In the near term, what comes out of the climate task force established jointly by Biden and Bernie Sanders campaigns, which is supposed to provide its recommendations around mid-June.

  • It's unfolding at a time when the decades-old environmental justice movement has grown to encompass not only traditional pollution but wider climate concerns.
  • In particular, co-founder Varshini Prakash of the Sunrise Movement, which emphasizes racial justice dimensions of climate policy, is a Sanders designee on the body.
  • To go a bit deeper, its digital director, Mattias Lehman, has a lengthy Medium post on the group's posture here. It notes for instance, "For us people of color, the fight against climate change exists alongside the fight against white supremacy and colonialism."

Where it stands: Sunrise spokesperson Stevie O'Hanlon tells me it's something they're seeking to address via the task force.

  • Overall, they want Biden's plan to address climate "with the speed and scale that justice demand and in a way to addresses the existing inequity and injustices because of systemic environmental racism in this country."

The big picture: A suite of environmental groups has declared their support for Black Lives Matter and more broadly for confronting racial injustice.

  • That includes long-established groups like the Sierra Club, the League of Conservation Voters and the Natural Resources Defense Council, as well as newer players like the recently formed group Evergreen.
  • The statements are generally a mix of support but also efforts to draw links between racial and environmental disparities.
  • It comes even as the Washington Post reports groups "struggle with their own long-standing issues with addressing racial inequality and a lack of diversity in their ranks."

What they're saying: "From police brutality to discriminatory housing laws, from a corrupt legal system to contaminated drinking water and polluted air, our country has been built upon racist systems that we must all work together to break down," said the group Climate Power 2020.

  • The group launched last month is helmed by veterans of Democratic politics, and advisers range from old-guard figures like John Podesta to the new guard including Rhiana Gunn-Wright, a prominent figure in the Green New Deal movement.

Go deeper: Biden signals expanded climate plan as a "key objective"

Go deeper