Democrats plot environmental justice funding in budget bill

Democrats are quietly laying the groundwork to pump millions of dollars in environmental-justice initiatives as part of the budget-reconciliation package moving through Congress.

Rep. Don McEachin, the de facto environmental-justice spearhead in the House, is reaching out to top brass on the Energy and Commerce Committee to pitch legislation, dubbed the Environmental Justice for All Act, to fund programs to address the disproportionate impact of pollution and climate change on poor and minority communities.

“I would like to get every aspect of the EJ for All Act bill into reconciliation if at all possible,” McEachin, who sits on the Energy and Commerce and Natural Resources Committees, which hold primary jurisdiction over the legislation, told National Journal.

“I’ve done this long enough to know that we need to turn messaging into action. I absolutely believe that this Congress and this president will do that,” he said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer recently called for the inclusion of environmental-justice grants in the $1.9 trillion reconciliation bill. But the reconciliation process is touch and go, and environmental justice is politically divisive.

Speaking at a Bipartisan Policy Center event Thursday, Sen. Joe Manchin, who’s emerged as arguably the most powerful lawmaker in the Senate after threatening to buck his party on a range of issues, criticized the reconciliation process.

“Joe Biden’s advisers have led him wrong to start out in strictly a partisan direction. We should have found something we could vote on bipartisan first, and then gone down this lane if … we hit a roadblock,” he said. Still, Manchin joined Democrats to pass a budget that tees up reconciliation on a party-line vote early Friday morning.

Republicans have so far steered clear of supporting environmental-justice legislation since the issue gained a much bigger policy profile in recent years. They criticized environmental-justice provisions in an energy-technology bill passed by the House in September. A bicameral compromise on the energy-legislation rode alongside the omnibus in December—without the environmental-justice language.