Maloney touts climate framework at EJ hearing

By Kelsey Brugger | 08/26/2021 03:14 PM EST

House Oversight and Reform Chair Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) during a press conference on Capitol Hill in July. Francis Chung/E&E News

New York Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney released a climate plan today that includes revitalizing air quality controls, monitoring environmental justice investments and targeting “peaker” power plants that strain the electric grid.

The House Oversight and Reform Committee chairwoman unveiled the proposal at a field hearing in New York City accompanied by a panel of scientists and environmental justice experts.

“We’re here today because people in New York and across the country are dying,” Maloney said in opening remarks. “Every year, over 3,000 New Yorkers lose their lives from health conditions related to particulate matter pollution, and our city’s peaker power plants are chiefly responsible.”

Maloney’s plan comes as lawmakers have introduced multiple bills this year focused on environmental justice (E&E Daily, Aug. 25). The roundtable discussion, co-hosted by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), explored the impact of pollution on marginalized communities.

Ocasio-Cortez challenged the idea that Americans enjoy "cheap energy," as she put it. “Let’s talk about this myth — quote unquote cheap energy — because right now in Astoria, in a district I represent, in front-line communities, in low-income communities, in Black communities, immigrant communities, brown communities, Indigenous communities, we know that there is no such thing as cheap energy,” she said. “Because the price of cheap energy has always been our lives, our health, our lungs, our cancer rates.”

One of the panelists, Annel Hernandez, associate director of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, stressed that over the past 10 years, ratepayers paid $4.5 billion to have peaker plants — facilities that generally run during high demand — on hold. "Imagine the kind of clean and renewable energy projects that we could have invested in with that $4.5 billion."

Maloney’s proposal provides the framework for legislation for the committee to craft, according to a committee spokesperson. It comes as the Biden administration inches toward advancing its own environmental justice funding streams that have created excitement about the potential as well as anxiety about the rollout.

The committee spokesperson said the legislation should aim to “minimize the strain placed on the electric grid that drives peaker use, set a 100% renewable energy target for the federal government, deploy emerging air quality sensors on federal buildings and vehicles so we can tell when communities are in danger in real time, and ensure targeted oversight of the Biden-Harris Justice40 Initiative.”

Justice40 is the Biden administration’s plan to direct 40% of climate-related investments to marginalized communities. The administration had planned to release a screening tool — a nationwide database to track pollution — at the end of July, but the rollout has been delayed. A White House spokesperson said in an email this week that the screening tool will be out in the coming months.

Earlier this year, Democrats introduced the "Promoting Energy Alternatives is Key to Emission Reductions (PEAKER) Act" — H.R. 3139 and S. 1553 — from Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).

Lawmakers this month introduced the "Environmental Justice Act" — S. 2630 and H.R. 2434 — to codify and expand a Clinton-era executive order on how agencies deal with environmental justice concerns.

Another pending environmental justice bill is the "Environmental Justice for All Act" — H.R. 2021 and S. 872 — from House Natural Resources Chair Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.).