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Environmental Justice Plays a Key Role in Biden’s Covid-19 Stimulus Package

By Marianne Lavelle

The rescue plan includes an “unprecedented” $100 million in funding for action on air pollution and environmental health risks in marginalized communities.

President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid relief package includes a downpayment on his ambitious climate plan, including $100 million to address harmful air quality and environmental health risks in minority and low-income communities.

The provisions begin to make good on Biden’s pledge to address environmental injustice as an integral part of his drive to put the nation on track to net zero carbon emissions by mid-century. And they constitute the U.S. government’s first response to the growing scientific evidence—at least 17 peer-reviewed studies so far—showing that areas with high levels of air pollution have higher coronavirus death rates or more severe outbreaks. Some studies were able to trace the higher mortality specifically to fossil fuel pollution.

“Covid-19 is a respiratory illness and science has repeatedly shown how Americans who have been exposed to disproportionate air pollution are at higher risk of developing severe complications,” said Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., (D-N.J.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, who said he fought to include the funding in the bill. “This pandemic has shown a spotlight on unequal access to clean air in this country.”

The Environmental Protection Agency will administer the funding, with about $50 million directed to environmental justice grants and other activities that identify and address disproportionate environmental or public health harms and risks. That is more than the $40 million that EPA has spent on environmental justice grants in the 26 years it has been administering the program.