Washington, D.C. July 6, 2020 – Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruling this morning that the Dakota Access Pipeline must be shut down and drained of oil by Aug. 5 and the announcement over the weekend that the owners of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline have abandoned construction of the unpopular project prove the importance and beneficial impact of public scrutiny of the fossil fuel industry. Grijalva’s Environmental Justice for All Act (H.R. 5986) would expand the National Environmental Policy Act – the basis of the Dakota Access shutdown order – to grant more public input for major projects like oil and gas pipelines and begin to address the impacts of decades of environmental discrimination and racism.
Grijalva, leader of a May 20 joint amicus brief with 36 House and Senate colleagues to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia urging the closure of the Dakota Access Pipeline over failure to consider pollution impacts, pointed to the Dakota Access and Atlantic Coast announcements in urging passage of his bill, which is included in the House Democratic climate plan unveiled last week. He pointed out that coalitions of local leaders, environmental advocates, public health experts, legal scholars and elected lawmakers were instrumental in shutting down both projects, similar to the coalition he and Rep. A. Donald McEachin (D-Va.) worked with in writing H.R. 5986 through more than a year of public input and outreach to underrepresented communities.
“Think of all the doom and gloom we heard for years about the need to rush these projects through, and all the completely unrealistic job numbers we kept getting shoved down our throats as we asked simple questions about environmental impacts,” Grijalva said today. “A more democratic, inclusive, sustainable energy economy is possible if we follow our laws and listen to the people our decisions impact the most. In the meantime, any company thinking of trying to repeat the playbook these companies used to cut corners and steamroll impacted families is now on notice. The American public is tired of the fossil fuel industry pushing around entire communities and treating public health and environmental quality like something only hippies care about, and that era is coming to an end.”
Dominion Energy and Duke Energy, the owners of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, tried to build the project through the historically black Union Hill community in Virginia, which generated significant protest and calls for greater scrutiny of the fossil fuel industry’s greatly disparate environmental impacts. Similarly, opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline became a unifying cause for advocates of Native American tribal sovereignty given the powerful opposition of the Standing Rock Sioux and other tribes.
Chair Grijalva visited the Standing Rock protest camp and spoke with then-chairman Dave Archambault II in 2016. Shortly thereafter, in a preview of the Black Lives Matter protests now sweeping the country, police sprayed pipeline protesters – whose demands were focused on listening to impacted Native American communities – with tear gas and water cannons in freezing temperatures.
Grijalva has long advocated for stronger federal environmental justice policies that could restore balance in the power dynamic between fossil fuel and pipelines companies and the communities they damage. Among other measures, Grijalva’s bill, coauthored with Rep. McEachin:
- creates a Federal Energy Transition Economic Development Assistance Fund – paid for through new fees on oil, gas and coal companies – to support communities and workers as they transition away from greenhouse gas-dependent economies;
- requires federal agencies to consider cumulative health impacts under the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act in making permitting decisions and ensures that permits will not be issued if projects cannot demonstrate a reasonable certainty of no harm to human health;
- strengthens the Civil Rights Act to permit private citizens and organizations facing discrimination to seek legal remedies, overturning the Alexander v. Sandoval ruling; and
- provides $75 million in annual grants for research and program development to reduce health disparities and improve public health in environmental justice communities.