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The legacy of Donald McEachin: Legislation would protect low-income, Black communities

Rebecca Barnabi
climate change
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The A. Donald McEachin Environmental Justice For All Act would be a major step forward toward addressing the disproportionate adverse human health or environmental effects of federal laws or programs on communities of color, low-income communities and tribal communities.

The legislation, named in honor of the U.S. House bill’s original sponsor, incorporates extensive community feedback, including 350 written comments from members of the public and leaders within the environmental justice movement. U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger of Virginia joined sponsorship of the legislation this week.

“For far too long, marginalized communities have borne the brunt of climate change and environmental inequities,” Spanberber said. “These communities in Virginia and across our country are disproportionately exposed to toxins, air and climate pollutants, and a lack of access to the outdoors. I’m proud to join the A. Donald McEachin Environmental Justice Act — named after my dear friend and fellow Virginian, the late Congressman Donald McEachin — which would take concrete steps to make sure that all Virginians have access to clean air, clean water, and a healthy environment. I hope my colleagues will work together to advance this legislation, build a healthier climate for the next generation, and honor Congressman McEachin’s legacy.”

McEachin, a graduate of UVA School of Law and Virginia Union University, served Virginia’s District 4 from 2017 until his death in November 2022. His legislature career began in 1995 in the House of Delegates.

The Spanberger-backed legislation is supported by more than 300 groups, including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Virginia Interfaith Power & Light, Hispanic Access Foundation, National Wildlife Federation, Center for Environmental Health, Healthy Babies Bright Futures, Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments, Green America, Rachel Carson Council, Outdoors Alliance for Kids, Natural Resources Defense Council, Learning Disabilities Association of Virginia, Climate Reality Project, and Latino Farmers & Ranchers International, Inc.

 The A. Donald McEachin Environmental Justice For All Act would: 

  • Create a Federal Energy Transition Economic Development Assistance Fund — paid for through new fees on oil, gas, and coal companies — to support communities and workers as they transition away from greenhouse gas-dependent economies;

  • Direct federal agencies to create a working group on environmental justice compliance and enforcement and to develop environmental justice strategies and annually report on implementation;

  • Require federal agencies to provide early and meaningful community involvement opportunities under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) when proposing an action affecting an environmental justice community. Ensure robust Tribal representation throughout the NEPA process for actions that could impact a Native American Tribe, including activities impacting off-reservation lands and sacred sites;

  • Authorize $75 million annually for grants to support research and program development to reduce health disparities and improve public health in environmental justice communities, and supports more equitable access to parks and recreational opportunities that benefit underserved urban communities;

  • Establish requirements and programs concerning chemicals or toxic ingredients in certain products, including cosmetic, consumer, cleaning, toy, or baby products;

  • Require federal agencies to consider cumulative health impacts under the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act in making permitting decisions and ensures that permits will not be issued if projects cannot demonstrate a reasonable certainty of no harm to human health; and

  • Expand Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit federally funded programs, policies, practices, or activities from causing disparate impacts on the basis of race, color, or national origin;

The A. Donald McEachin Environmental Justice Act is led in the U.S. Senate by U.S. Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, and in the U.S. House by U.S. Reps. Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona and Barbara Lee of California.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.