Bill Would Give Individuals The Power To Fight Pollution, Contamination, Other Environmental Health Risks

Bill Would Give Individuals The Power To Fight Pollution, Contamination, Other Environmental Health Risks

Sen. Menendez, Rep. Solis introduce legislation to restore key constitutional environmental rights blocked by Supreme Court

Washington - U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, today introduced the Environmental Justice Enforcement Act to restore a key tool in the struggle to guarantee the rights of individuals to fight for their environmental rights. U.S. Rep. Hilda L. Solis (CA-32), an avid advocate on behalf of environmental justice issues, has introduced a companion bill in the House of Representatives along with co-sponsor Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (FL-23). Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) are original co-sponsors of the Senate bill. It would restore citizens' ability to fight environmental injustices in their communities - such as rampant pollution or contamination - by establishing a private right of action under the Civil Rights Act.

Senator Menendez (D-NJ):

"Earth Week is a fitting time to shine a light on environmental injustice happening across America, where people have to endure increased pollution and health risks just because they are a minority or live in a low-income area," Sen. Menendez said. "This bill is based on the premise that people should be allowed to fight for the cleanliness of their neighborhoods and the health of their children. This is a fundamental right that should not be blocked by the Supreme Court. This legislation is about healthy communities, it's about fairness, and it's about empowerment."

Congresswoman Solis (CA-32):

"For too long the health of minority and low-income communities has been put at considerable risk, yet these communities have been unable to fight back because of a decision made by the Supreme Court," said Congresswoman Solis, who was the first woman to be recognized with the John F. Kennedy Profiles in Courage Award for her pioneering work on environmental justice. "This legislation is a critical step to achieving real and lasting justice for minority and low-income communities across this country. By re-establishing a right of private action, we are empowering environmental justice communities with a voice and the authority to protect their health and welfare."

Senator Durbin (D-IL):

"This bill seeks to reinstate an important civil rights law that was gutted by five Justices on the United States Supreme Court. It would once again give the American people the legal tools to ensure that federal tax dollars aren't used in ways that unfairly discriminate on the basis of race, color, or national origin."

Senator Clinton (D-NY):

"No American should live at risk because of an unsafe environment. Local communities whose rights are violated by polluters must have an opportunity to seek justice. Our civil rights laws need to protect communities from discrimination that would force them to endure a disproportionate burden of environmental pollution. This legislation is a step forward in helping to keep our communities clean and our families safe," said Senator Clinton.

Congressman Hastings (FL-23):
"Communities that have been afflicted by the worst of environmental harms deserve legal recourse for what they have experienced. Some of our nation's most vulnerable communities have no choice but to live on the brink of environmental disaster that makes everyday life a tremendous health risk. These communities deserve a voice and I am honored to be a part of the coalition in Congress that will restore that voice."

New Jersey Environmental Federation (NJEF) Campaign Director David Pringle:
"From Jersey City to Camden, low income and minority communities are overburdened by pollution and that is discrimination. Senator Menendez understands what the Bush Supreme Court has forgotten -- environmental justice is not a privilege, but a right."

BACKGROUND

In 2001, the Supreme Court ruled in Alexander v. Sandoval, that a regulation enacted under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not include a private right of action to allow private lawsuits based on evidence of disparate impact. This means that many have effectively lost the ability to enforce their civil rights, particularly when it comes to the environment.

• The bill amends the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to allow disparate impact evidence. A person can prove a civil rights case if they can show they have been subject to a policy or practice that causes a disparate impact on the basis of race, color or national origin and the accused person or entity fails to demonstrate that the policy or practice is needed to achieve nondiscriminatory goals.

• The bill states that any person who has been aggrieved by discrimination may bring a civil action in any Federal or State court of jurisdiction to enforce such rights.

• The bill allows an aggrieved person to recover compensatory and punitive damages, attorney's fees and costs. However, aggrieved persons cannot receive punitive damages from the government.

Endorsements:
Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment, NRDC, Earthjustice, Nat. Hispanic Environmental Council (NHEC), New Jersey Environmental Federation (NJEF).

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