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Elizabeth Warren calls for environmental justice in addressing climate change as part of new campaign proposal

Elizabeth Warren.
Elizabeth Warren. Elizabeth Frantz

WASHINGTON — Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren released a plan Wednesday calling for environmental justice in responding to climate change, proposing steps to reduce what she called the disproportionate effect that pollution has on low-income and minority communities.

Warren, who has made the fight against climate change a key to her Democratic presidential campaign, said a “just transition” to clean energy as outlined in the Green New Deal has to happen by “prioritizing communities that have experienced historic disinvestment.” She cited studies indicating that toxic waste sites, landfills, congested highways, and other sources of pollution hit harder in places such as predominantly black and Latino neighborhoods.


Warren would direct the Environmental Protection Agency to extensively map which communities are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change so federal clean air and water rules can be adjusted, and she promised to hold an environmental justice summit within her first 100 days in office. She would also direct one-third of a proposed climate investment under the Green New Deal into communities most at risk of adverse environmental effects, which she said would equal at least $1 trillion over the next decade.

“We didn’t get here by accident,” Warren said in the 12-page plan. “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. 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.”

Warren’s climate justice plan also would fully fund environmental health programs at the federal Centers for Disease Control, bolster the EPA’s ability to fight environmental discrimination, and enable the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council to report directly to the White House. She also explained how many of the policies she already has proposed including environmental justice elements, such as building more “well-located” affordable housing and holding corporate polluters more accountable through criminal penalties for executives.


The call for environmental justice is the latest addition to Warren’s extensive campaign plans to combat climate change. In recent months, she has touted expanded green manufacturing and has released a strategy for improving military readiness by preparing for climate change.

Here latest proposal also comes as Warren has struggled to win the support of black voters, particularly in South Carolina, a key early primary state. In a CNN poll released at the end of September, Warren polled just 4 percent among likely black voters, while former vice president Joe Biden polled at 45 percent. Warren and Biden polled nearly even among white voters in the state.

In an effort to better understand the far-reaching effects of climate injustice, Warren said she recently visited what is considered Michigan’s most polluted ZIP code with Representative Rashida Tlaib, a Democrat whose district includes parts of Detroit and its suburbs. Warren toured a school located next to several industrial plants and a community center, where she talked to people affected by the high levels of pollution that has caused cancer among their family and friends.

“These big corporations have enough muscle with the government that they squeeze it to get tax breaks,” Warren said outside the community center in a video released by her campaign. “So the cost of running these schools and keeping these roads paved falls disproportionately on you. So you’re not only paying the cost in terms of what you breathe, what your children breathe . . . you’re also paying the cost out of pocket.”


Ryan Wangman can be reached at ryan.wangman@globe.com.