Hillary Clinton Just Released A Plan To Target This Often-Ignored Environmental Issue

CREDIT: AP PHOTO/RICHARD DREW

During a speech Wednesday at the National Action Network Convention — an event in New York City put on by the Rev. Al Sharpton — former Secretary of State and current Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton announced a new plan to “fight for environmental justice,” which would include eliminating lead as a major public health threat within the next five years.

“If we put our minds to it, we can get it done… we know how to do the work. All we need is the will,” she said.

Alongside the speech, which also touched on issues related to transportation and guns, the Clinton campaign released a fact sheet outlining the candidate’s plans for lessening the environmental burdens faced by low-income communities of color.

“Environmental and climate justice can’t just be slogans — they have to be central goals,” the plan reads. “Clean air and clean water aren’t luxuries — they are basic rights of all Americans. No one in our country should be exposed to toxic chemicals or hazardous wastes simply because of where they live, their income, or their race.”

Clinton’s primary environmental justice platform seems to be removing the public health threat of lead poisoning within the next five years. During her speech, Clinton referenced the ongoing crisis in Flint, Michigan, arguing that the problem would never have occurred in a more affluent area.

Under Clinton’s plan, the Democratic candidate would establish a Presidential Commission on Childhood Lead Exposure that would be tasked with writing a national plan to combat lead poisoning in America. She also pledged as much as $5 billion in federal dollars to help pay for the replacement of lead-tainted paint, windows, and doors in homes, schools, and childcare centers.

The CDC estimates that some half a million children in the United States between the ages of one and five have lead levels in their blood above 5 micrograms per deciliter, though no level of lead is considered safe. Public health experts argue that lead poisoning is a largely preventable crisis, but that federal regulations fall short of properly addressing the issue.

Aside from lead poisoning, Clinton’s environmental justice plan also includes steps to prevent public drinking water contamination through an increased investment in modernizing America’s aging water infrastructure. A recent poll found that post-Flint, only half of Americans are “very confident” that their tap water is safe to drink.

Clinton’s plan also includes steps to make those that knowingly carry out environmental violations more culpable under the legal system. She pledged to direct both the EPA and the Department of Justice to use Title VI of the Civil Rights Act to investigate instances of environmental injustice nationwide. The EPA’s Office of Civil Rights has come under fire recently after a Center for Public Integrity investigation revealed that the office had never, in its 22-year history, made a formal finding of a Title VI violation.

In her speech, Clinton also spoke about the need to invest in both clean power and transportation as a means of improving air quality and lessening air pollution, calling transportation “a civil rights issue.” Several studies have shown that poor communities and communities of color tend to bear the brunt of air pollution in the United States, but a 2014 Wayne State University study made headlines for finding that race is often a more important factor than income when determining a community’s likely exposure to dangerous levels of air pollution — that is, a low-income white community will face lower levels of air pollution than a high-income Hispanic community.

Clinton’s Democratic opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) does not have a standalone environmental justice plan, but includes the issue under his larger racial justice platform. None of the Republican presidential candidates have taken a stance on the issue of environmental justice, and all but Ohio Governor John Kaisich (R-OH) deny that man-made climate change — which disproportionately impacts low-income communities and communities of color — is a problem. Republican front runner Donald Trump has said that he is “not a big believer in man-made climate change” and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has derided climate science as “religion.” Cruz has also been a vocal opponent of the Obama administration’s environmental policy, including the Clean Power Plan — last year, he introduced a bill that would have gutted the plan and repealed all federal climate change regulation in the United States. Trump is also not a huge fan of environmental policies, calling the EPA “the laughingstock of the world” and vowing to cut the agency if elected.