While nearly all 2020 Democratic presidential candidates have released climate plans, and some frame their policies in the context of social equity, Elizabeth Warren today released a separate plan specifically about environmental justice.
The Massachusetts Senator directly addresses rural Iowa’s poisoned drinking water and the state’s recent flooding in her plan, which focuses on tightening environmental standards in communities, creating jobs in renewable or clean energy fields and holding federal agencies more accountable to benefit disenfranchised communities, among other policies.
“We didn’t get here by accident. Our crisis of environmental injustice is the result of decades of discrimination and environmental racism compounding in communities that have been overlooked for too long,” Warren’s plan said. “It is the result of multiple choices that put corporate profits before people, while our government looked the other way. It is unacceptable, and it must change.”
Candidates like New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, Tom Steyer and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro have also addressed climate strategies in the context of social justice or civil rights. While Warren rolled out some climate policies through green manufacturing initiatives and a plan to use the military in leading the fight to combat climate change, the new outline makes her environmental policies more robust.
“Justice cannot be a secondary concern — it must be at the center of our response to climate change,” the plan said.
The new plan focuses on Iowa when discussing the protection of vulnerable communities during climate-related disasters.
While any community can be hit by extreme weather, the impact of these kinds of disasters is particularly devastating for low-income communities, people with disabilities and people of color, her plan suggests.
Warren would invest in pre-disaster mitigation by “quintupling” FEMA’s Pre-Disaster Mitigation Program. She will also better prepare places like Iowa for flood events by directing FEMA to fully update flood maps with forward-looking data and raising standards for new construction, like by reinstating the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard.
Warren’s plan also said the Senator would make it easier for vulnerable residents to move out of flood-prone properties, by buying back properties from low-income homeowners at a value that will allow them to relocate, and then tearing down the flood-prone properties.
“When I visited Pacific Junction, Iowa, I saw scenes of devastation: crops ruined for the season, cars permanently stalled, a water line 7 or 8 feet high in residents’ living rooms,” Warren said in her plan. “And many residents in Pacific Junction fear that this could happen all over again next year.”
A Warren Administration will also commit to improving drinking water in the nation, an issue the state of Iowa has grappled with due to high levels of agricultural runoff in its rivers and steams.
Warren intends to refurbish old water infrastructure and support ongoing water treatment operations and maintenance. In rural areas, Warren said her administration would increase funding for programs which would empower family farmers to help limit the agricultural runoff that harms local wells and water systems.
Warren also referenced how industrial pollution has affected indigenous populations in her plan, like the Navajo communities of the Southwest.
Last Friday, Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg spoke in Iowa City after being introduced by Dawson Davenport, a member of the Meskwaki nation, an indigenous tribe in Iowa.
“For centuries, the native and indigenous people have fought for our inherent right for the natural world. The plant life, and the water. Men and women have fought to bring awareness to the injustices we face and now climate disaster is moving into everyone’s lives and that is why I feel like [the work that Greta is doing] is very important,” Davenport said.
Thunberg herself acknowledged the land when she began her speech. “We realize we are on indigenous Ioway land, the land Sioux and Meskwaki,” she said.
Warren said that as president, she would collaborate with Tribal governments on land management practices by “incorporating traditional ecological practices and exploring co-management and the return of public resources to indigenous protection wherever possible.”
by Isabella Murray
Photo by Julie Fleming