In October, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker introduced the Environmental Justice Act of 2017. The bill requires federal agencies to address environmental justice through agency actions and strengthens protections for the communities most impacted by environmental harms.

Puget Soundkeeper supports this bill for many reasons. First and foremost, we support the rights of all people to a clean and healthy environment. A history of planning decisions made without equal consideration of these rights has resulted in toxic waste sites, landfills, and industrial pollution disproportionately concentrated in communities of color, indigenous communities, and low-income and immigrant communities. Booker’s bill is a step towards addressing these wrongs.

The bill also recognizes the power that comes from organizers who are on the front lines. In Puget Sound, front line communities are working for a healthy, resilient and sustainable future. Because they experience pollution problems first and worst, communities on the front lines have insight into how best to address these problems. Booker consulted with grassroots organizations working on environmental justice around the country in building this bill, hoping to design legislation that will support the important work of local groups like Front and Centered and allies across the country.

“There is a tremendous amount of corporate villainy going on in our country, where corporations are doing things that they know are causing harm, and they wouldn’t do this where their children live or where their children are growing up.” — Sen. Cory Booker

Booker’s bill gives individuals and communities more power to defend their rights in court. Through our work, we’ve seen firsthand how pollution problems can continue unaddressed until individuals take action. Community members must have a way to defend their rights when federal agencies are unwilling or unable to do so.

And the bill specifically calls out the problem of cumulative impacts under the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act. The current permits issued to industrial facilities rarely consider whether an area has a high level of pollution already, from other facilities or waste sites nearby. But the impact of that pollution is cumulative, and it needs to be measured. The bill would require that agencies include that cumulative impact in permitting decisions.

It’s past time for such legislation.