People & Planet First | Parts 1 & 2: Environmental Justice and Climate Resilience

Julián Castro
Sep 3, 2019 · 6 min read

Right now, the climate crisis is already devastating our communities, our homes, and our families. Severe storms, deadly hurricanes, massive floods, extreme droughts, and wildfires are now a normal occurrence, destroying homes and businesses, and shrinking our economy. Toxic pollution is poisoning the water we drink and the air we breath. People are being forced to leave their homeland, becoming climate refugees. Carbon emissions are warming our planet and causing sea levels to rise. More than a million species are on the brink of extinction due to human activity.

This crisis is the greatest existential threat to our future, but we have the power to mobilize the greatness of America. Together, we will direct $10 trillion in federal, state, local, and private investments over the next decade to create ten million good paying jobs, transition away from fossil fuels, build a 100 percent clean-energy economy, and lead the world in the 21st century.

In my role as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, I saw the devastation of superstorms, droughts, wildfires, and “hundred year” floods that visited the same towns over and over again. During my tenure, two-thirds of the counties in the United States suffered a major climate-sparked disaster. In the aftermath of these events, I often visited homes that were destroyed along with all the mementos that generations of a family had collected and saved. Climate change damages more than buildings and roads. Parents lose their jobs when a business closes, children miss days and even weeks of school when a storm shuts down their schools, and our elderly are at great risk when rising water enters their homes. We lose friends, family, and neighbors to this weather. These costs are immeasurable.

The climate crisis affects everyone, but those who are already struggling to pay their bills in this economy may miss a payment for homeowner’s or renter’s insurance. When disaster strikes, it can wipe out their financial stability. For those living in poverty, a flood can mean homelessness or housing insecurity. This issue disproportionately affects communities of color and low-income Americans.

I look at the climate crisis through the lens of how it affects people. I think about the homeowners I visited in the Rockaways of New York City who rebuilt after superstorm Sandy, and the folks I met in Louisiana after a 500-year-flood wiped out their homes. I’ve met people all over this country who have been directly affected by the climate crisis. These are folks who we can’t afford to leave behind. And we won’t. In my administration, we will invest in environmental justice and climate resilience with an emphasis on frontline communities, people who are at the forefront of combating climate change, and families who have borne the unequal burden of pollution. As we transition to a fairer and cleaner economy no one will be left behind. Everyone in our nation counts: energy workers and communities of color, rural towns and coastal cities, working families and small businesses. Together, we will both protect our planet and grow our economy.

Last year, the UN’s Intercontinental Panel on Climate Change told us we have 12 years to transform our economy to avert untold environmental catastrophe. Inaction is not an option. In the last 40 years, climate disasters have cost $1.6 trillion with an average of six events per year. But that’s doubled in the last five years, with over 12 extreme climate disasters every year. Severe weather events are becoming more intense and more frequent, threatening not only frontline communities, but economic growth, critical infrastructure, and public health in every part of the nation. For example, with Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, almost 3,000 people died and over 3 million more were displaced.

Our vision begins with an ambitious and achievable timeline. That’s why my first executive action will be to rejoin the Paris Climate Accords and rally the international community to go further, achieving worldwide net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. To reach that global target, the United States will achieve net-zero emissions by 2045 and at least a 50 percent reduction by 2030. We will mobilize our entire nation around a mission for all electrical power to be carbon-neutral by 2030 and be entirely clean, renewable, and zero-emission by 2035. We must also invest in manufacturing, research and development, raise standards to ensure new light- and medium-duty vehicles and buildings are zero emissions by 2030, and double federal investment in public transportation to electrify buses and expand public transit. These sectors are critical because combined they contribute over 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.

Over the next decade, we will significantly reduce carbon emissions by transitioning off of fossil fuels to clean energy. We will immediately stop the exploration and extraction of fossil fuels on public lands and end all taxpayer subsidies of fossil fuel production. By 2030, we will replace all electricity generated by coal to zero-emission sources. I support a new “carbon pollution fee” on up-stream, large-scale polluters for greenhouse gas emissions and investing that revenue in renewable energy, environmental justice, and climate resilience.

This bold climate action and nationwide mobilization will create 10 million good job opportunities in a 100 percent clean energy economy.

In my first 100 days, I will propose new civil rights legislation to address the disparate impact of environmental discrimination and dismantle structures of environmental racism. Communities of color and low income communities are more likely to live next to polluters and breathe polluted air. More than half of the 9 million people living near hazardous waste sites are people of color. Black children are twice as likely to have asthma as white children and black children are 10 times more likely than white kids to die of complications from asthma, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. President Trump’s own EPA issued a study that wrote, “results at national, state, and county scales all indicate that non-Whites tend to be burdened [by pollution] disproportionately to Whites.” The problem is that, like our neighborhoods, pollution is segregated. When I’m president, environmental justice will be a top priority. We will empower the EPA to make sure polluters pay and that victims receive just compensation. We will reinstitute the Superfund tax, clean up brownsites, and ensure hybrid disasters like the Flint water crisis receive emergency funding. For generations, underserved communities have been suffering from the effects of pollution and a degraded environment, and our time to rectify it is now.

I will also establish a National Climate Council to coordinate the federal government’s climate action. We will implement a renewed Clean Power Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions emissions, regulate methane gas through executive action, establish Buy Clean procurement standards, and continue improving energy standards for appliances and homes. We will also create a national clean energy standard, invest in research and development to bring clean technology to commercial viability, invest in export assistance to promote American clean manufacturing, and use “carbon equity scoring” to invest for the maximum impact on environmental justice objectives.

Building climate resilient communities means investing in physical, natural, and social infrastructure. We will start by creating a $200 billion Green Infrastructure Fund to invest in physical infrastructure such as smart grids and electric vehicle charging stations. We’ll also protect communities from financial and natural disasters by strengthening the National Flood Insurance Program, updating flood maps nationwide, expanding HUD’s competitive National Disaster Resilience Grant program. One of the best defenses against climate change is our natural infrastructure such as wetlands and forests. When I’m president, we will protect 30 percent of U.S. lands and waters by 2030 with a goal of 50 percent by 2050. Research suggests global reforestation could capture 25 percent of annual carbon emissions, and I’m committed to planting 30 billion trees by 2050, an average of 1 billion trees a year, doubling our rate of reforestation. The foundation of strong, resilient communities is ‘social infrastructure’: universal healthcare, worker rights, quality education, affordable housing, and 21st century safety net. People do not live their lives in silos and so our plan is intersectional of those challenges.

We will mobilize America around this mission for a historic investment in the American people and our planet. That’s the benefit of a Green New Deal: we will build a 100 percent clean energy economy that both combats the climate crisis and tackles structural inequality. This issue is not only about saving the planet, it’s about serving its people. The purpose of building more resilient communities and ensuring environmental justice for all is to improve life for everyone. Whether you are an energy worker transitioning to a new job or a family of color living next to a former coal plant, whether you are in a rural town recovering from a massive flood or coastal city bracing for major hurricane, everyone counts in America. All of us need to work together and mobilize the greatness of the United States to build a 21st Century clean energy economy with ten million good paying job opportunities.

Read the plan >>

Castro2020

Julián Castro for President 2020

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