December 19, 2019

New Senate environmental caucus seeks input

Source: The McDonough County Voice


WESTERN ILLINOIS — The U.S. Senate’s first ever Environmental Justice Caucus is asking community leaders for their input on how the nation’s environmental and economic policies may be hindering their communities’ abilities to transition to cleaner environments and renewable energies.

Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth is co-founder of the caucus and is a member of the U.S. Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis. Citing “generations of economic and racial inequality” as having “disproportionately exposed workers, communities of color and others to low wages, toxic pollution and climate threats,” Duckworth and the other members in the caucus are asking community leaders and environmental justice advocates to comment on how policies such as those enforced by Environmental Protection Agency and access to funding have hampered community development. Low-income communities are also being looked at by the caucus in addition to “communities of color.”

Duckworth was joined by fellow Illinois Democrat Sen. Dick Durbin, Sen. Kamala Harris, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Cory Booker and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, among others.

The Internal Revenue Service defines “low-income community” as one that has at least 20 percent poverty rate. McDonough County at the most recent U.S. Census Bureau update was estimated at about 21 percent as a whole.

Transportation is identified as one area where climate issues can be addressed; mainly from reduced use of personal vehicles and more use of bus systems and commuter rail systems such as Amtrak. Macomb is a community served by both modes of transportation, but each come with their own challenges when it comes to operational logistics and funding.

The caucus has constructed five basic questions for community leaders and environmental advocates to answer that have been sent out in a letter to undisclosed recipients. The first question is: “Are there current federal programs that address environmental justice concerns that are currently not being funded by Congress and the Trump Administration that require prioritization?” The second question is: “What tools, policies, regulations, and programs have proven particularly useful in addressing cumulative environmental impacts?” With regard to accessing clean energy and transportation, Duckworth and her colleagues ask: “What barriers exist for your community to access clean energy and transportation, and are there policies that have been successful at addressing them that the federal government should prioritize?”

While there is concern for adding legislative solutions, there is interest by the caucus in greater efficiency for current regulations and programs. There is opportunity to critique current programs, such as rural development block grants.

U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development is one of the main funding entities for block grants and low to no interest loans for major projects in low-income communities. Such projects can range from training for newly elected public officials to potable water and wastewater treatment facilities. Rural Development also oversees single family housing direct home loans, guaranteed loans and business and industry loan guarantees. The full range of Rural Development programs supporting economic and environmental success in low-income communities can be found online at:

Finally, the caucus asks: “As you plan for the future of your community and bring up the next generation, what are the actions you would like to see the federal government take to build your future capacity to respond to climate change and environmental challenges?”

Those wishing to give their input can do so by calling Radha Adhar at 202-224-2324, Kenneth Martin at 202-224-1373 or Christine Blackburn at 202-224-3173. Responses should be received by Jan. 31, 2020.

By:  Jared DuBach