Pramila Jayapal’s Bid to Change the Uneven Impact of Climate Change

Research shows that climate-related events have a significant impact on vulnerable communities. Extreme weather events are most likely to affect minority communities, from New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina through New York City’s Superstorm Sandy. You can find out more at Study 2019 found that Black Americans living in communities hit by disasters over the study period lost nearly $20,000 in wealth—whereas their white counterparts gained more than $126,000 as investment flowed and communities rebuilt.

Washington Democratic Rep. Pramila Japal unveiled Tuesday’s new legislation to change that sad reality. It includes a series of initiatives to not only mitigate the effects of climate-related catastrophes on vulnerable communities, but also turn the tide. Wave of investments that follows a catastrophe into a bright spot.
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“One of the things we really want to fix is how the resources get distributed: who gets the jobs, how do we make sure that those jobs are well paid, and that it becomes an opportunity to—wait for it—build back better in those communities,” says Jayapal.

Jayapal’s legislation, which draws on consultation with a range of environmental groups, contains a laundry list of policies with that aim in mind. The bill would establish a grant program for states, local governments and nonprofits to create jobs in “climate resilience” with a requirement that the recipients commit to employing a diverse workforce. These jobs include things like preemptive climate resilience work—think of retrofitting and restoration that helps soften the blow of a major disaster—as well as jobs that follow the storm, like clean up and debris removal. Although these industries are already present in certain parts of the country they do not have adequate worker protections. The bill’s text say that this grant program could create one million jobs annually that provide for worker safety and benefits.

The legislation would also provide funding for local governments to come up with their own resilience plans—and require them to address the disparate challenges faced by the most vulnerable communities. A new Office of Climate Resilience at the White House would serve as a hub for the federal government’s coordination with vulnerable communities.

Jayapal presented the bill on Tuesday morning, along with thirty progressive Democrats, as co-sponsors. However, because of provisions such as a relaxation in immigration rules for climate resilience workers it will be difficult to get passed as written by the politically divided Congress. Even so,Jayapal believes that elements from the bill’s 131 pages can influence discussions about a variety of active policy issues. For example, the proposal might help Congress to structure the Civilian Climate Corps. This proposed federal program would place Americans in climate-related projects. Other elements could help support the Biden Administration’s Justice40 initiative, which requires 40% of the benefits of federal climate investment to benefit disadvantaged communities. “This is actually laying out a vision,” she says.

That vision leaves much of the details to states, cities and communities—and that’s sort of the point. For years, activists have been calling for government attention to issues of environmental justice and requesting solutions that empower local authorities.

The bill’s substance is not the only benefit. It will also have some political advantages, allowing people to connect hundreds of billions that the Biden Administration wants to invest in climate change to their everyday lives.

“If people feel like they’re never being considered, that frontline communities are never being considered, or that fossil fuel workers are never being considered, their lives and livelihoods are not being considered, we will lose them politically,” says Jayapal. “They will either go to another party, depending on where they are or they just won’t come out and vote.”


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