Congress Needs More Black and Brown Leaders

A new report from the League of Conservation Voters shows who our environmental leaders are in Congress. The Frontline explores how congressional members of color are leading the cause.

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Diversity is key to passing climate policy. Reps. Ayanna Pressley and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez know all about that. (Photograph by Mario Tama / Getty Images)

We all have our favorites in the world of politics. Mine is Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. As a Queens-based Latina who also dreams of saving the world, I see a reflection of myself in her work. All the members of the Squad—Rep. Ayanna Pressley, Rep. Ilhan Omar, Rep. Rashida Tlaib—are my favorites. And they’re all women of color. As it turns out, electing more candidates of color to Congress (and beyond!) may be the secret sauce to make climate legislation a reality.

 

The League of Conservation Voters (LCV) published a report Tuesday showing how members of the Tri-Caucus—which includes the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, Congressional Black Caucus, and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus—introduced, led, and supported bills that centered climate and environmental justice.

 

Welcome to The Frontline, where it’s no secret that diversity is power. I’m Yessenia Funes, climate editor of Atmos. For the first time in years, Congress can actually pass laws to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and decarbonize our society. This won’t be easy in the Senate, where Republicans can filibuster their way out of anything they don’t support. Still, we know where to expect leadership on this front—and that’s from our congressional members of color.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 116th Congress was historic. It was the most diverse Congress ever. That is, until the 117th Congress came around this year. However, these leaders of color—most of whom were Black and Latinx—wasted no time to make moves on the most pressing issue of our time: climate change.

 

They held 119 hearings on the climate crisis—a record, according to LCV.On the subject of environmental justice, this historic Congress introduced a record number of bills, too. 2020 was the year environmental justice went mainstream, and our leaders of color in the Capitol seized on that energy. We had Rep. Donald McEachin and Chair Raúl Grijalva introduce the Environmental Justice for All Act in February 2020. In August 2020, Ocasio-Cortez and now Vice President Kamala Harris introduced the Climate Equity Act. If you go even further to 2019, the Clean School Bus Act sought to address greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector while also reducing the air pollution these diesel vehicles bring to communities of color. Senator Harris led this charge, too, alongside Rep. Jahana Hayes.

 

While the House managed to pass many of these bills during the 116th Congress, the Republican-controlled Senate didn’t. With Donald Trump in the White House, they were unlikely to secure his signature, anyway. All this may finally change, however, under President Joe Biden and the new Senate. The passage of bills such as the Grand Canyon Centennial Protection Act and Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act would result in direct benefits to Indigenous peoples who are witnessing the federal government put their ancestral lands up for sale to extractive industries. People’s lives and culture are on the line—it’s up to our elected officials to take action.

 

“Last year, despite years of destructive, anti-environment policies under the Trump administration, we took great strides in the U.S. House of Representatives to champion a sustainable future for all,” said Congressman McEachin in a press release. “Climate change is the challenge that will define our future, and I look forward to continuing the shared fight for bold, inclusive environmental justice solutions alongside the League of Conservation Voters in the 117th Congress.”

 

With even more Black and brown leaders set to write and pass legislation in Congress this year, we can expect them to not only address the climate crisis but to also center justice and equity throughout. President Biden has promised as much, and Congress is sure to continue doing just that. Whether they succeed depends on how evil the GOP is feeling and whether Democrats keep the filibuster alive.

 

The climate revolution is in motion, and you already know who’s leading the charge.

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