WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.), top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee and co-founder of the first-ever Senate Environmental Justice Caucus, spoke today at a hearing of the Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis entitled, “Perspectives From The Front Lines: How Climate Change Uniquely Impacts Environmental Justice Communities.”
Today’s hearing was led by Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), top Democrat on the EPW Subcommittee on Fisheries, Water and Wildlife. Senators Duckworth and Cory Booker (D-N.J.), along with Senator Carper, co-founded the Environmental Justice Caucus on Earth Day, 2019. The caucus has now grown to 15 members.
Below are Senator Carper’s remarks, as prepared for delivery:
“Thank you, Senator Duckworth, for convening this meeting to discuss the impacts of climate change on environmental justice communities. First, I want to thank you for your leadership on this important issue. Second, before I begin, I’d like to extend a warm welcome to our witnesses here today, including Dr. Martinez and Ms. Roberts—two Fightin’ Blue Hens who attended the University of Delaware.
“History tells us that environmental progress has not always been distributed equally. Like so many environmental issues, climate change disproportionately affects impoverished and disadvantaged communities, communities of color and indigenous communities. More often than not, low-income, minority and indigenous communities are located downstream and downwind from dangerous pollution, or near industrial facilities or factories.
“Not far from where I live in Wilmington, Delaware, there are neighborhoods alongside I-95 and 495 that suffer from poor air quality. Delaware is a downwind state. In these communities, interstate air pollution is compounded by dirty emissions from cars, trucks and vans stuck in traffic on the nearby interstate highways. And while the people living in these communities suffer from greater air pollution, they are also less likely to have access to quality, affordable health care to address illnesses that come from breathing dirty air. That’s just not fair and, even worse, experts tell us that climate change will only make this problem worse.
“According to the National Climate Assessment, climate change is expected to increase smog and soot pollution significantly, resulting in more asthma along with greater incidence of lung disease and deaths, and increasing health care costs by up to $26 billion each year. We know that the burden of this pollution – and the costs, in dollars and in lives – will fall disproportionately on lower-income, minority and indigenous communities.
“That could be said of most of the climate change effects we’re expected to see in the near future—from the more severe storms and rising seas along our coasts, to the catastrophic flooding in rural America. For example, in the Southbridge area of Wilmington – a low-lying, predominately African-American, working class neighborhood – an average rainfall or snowmelt can cause significant tidal flooding in areas close to the Christina River. Worsening storms and sea level rise will only make this problem worse.
“Although we know that low-income, minority and indigenous communities are poised to suffer the most from the climate crisis and its impacts, too often, the concerns of these communities take a back seat. That’s just not right.
“I’m reminded of the Golden Rule, which basically tells us to treat other people the way we would want to be treated. As it turns out, almost every major religion in the world includes a similar admonition. We should be guided by the Golden Rule and work together to bring these issues of environmental justice to the forefront.
“In that spirit, earlier this year, I joined Senators Duckworth and Booker to form the Senate’s first-ever Environmental Justice Caucus. We now have 15 members. One of our goals is to elevate environmental justice issues using just about every platform available to us here in the Senate. Our caucus members plan to examine the inequities facing our country’s environmental justice communities in the days to come and to work together to find ways to ensure that these communities no longer go ignored or feel forgotten.
“In our country today, a clear majority of Americans is calling on Congress to address the grave threat that the climate crisis poses to our country and our planet. As we listen to that clarion call for climate action, we have to ensure that the voices of our environmental justice communities are heard, as well. Simply put, we need to ensure that our policy solutions to address climate change protect and benefit the communities that bear the brunt of climate change.
“As the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, I look forward to working with my committee colleagues, our Environmental Justice Caucus members and everyone here today to do just that. Or, as we say in Delaware, ‘Carpe Diem!’ Seize the day! Thank you.”
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