Will climate change policy leave marginalized communities behind?
Pushing to meet President Biden’s climate change targets in his home state, Delaware lawmakers are creating an environmental justice task force to ensure infrastructure projects benefit marginalized Delawareans.
Biden has set ambitious climate targets, seeking to cut emissions in half based on 2005 levels by 2030. That’s twice as aggressive as what was agreed to under the Paris Climate agreement.
Now state lawmakers want to ensure any federal funding goes to the communities most negatively impacted by climate change and pollution with its new task force.
Senate sponsor Marie Pinkney (D-New Castle) highlighted Marshallton in New Castle County — where the mostly poor and Black residents are 33 percent more likely to develop cancer than people in Delaware’s wealthier communities.
“Historically we recognize that Black and brown communities because of practices like redlining and many others are the ones that suffer substantially more from environmental impacts,” Pinkney said. “And those impacts lead to poorer health outcomes and shorter life expectancies overall.”
State Sen. Darius Brown (D-Wilmington) says focusing on just poor and marginalized communities is too narrow for this task force.
“It would be my hope that the spirit of this committee would look beyond just northern New Castle County to the environmental challenges that we have throughout our state and also look beyond just Black or brown communities to all communities within our state that are impacted,” Brown said.
Pinkney agrees, and says Delaware’s southern two counties have suffered from lack of environmental studies, and much of the focus of climate change’s effects have been on New Castle County.
She says separate from this new task force, her infrastructure and environment subcommittee with the African American Task Force has been looking at commissioning more studies in Kent and Sussex counties to ensure communities there are also getting the attention they need.
Brown added that collaboration with community groups will be important, as some of the work outlined in this task force is duplicative of work being done by local communities groups already.
The group is composed of state lawmakers, as well as various department secretaries involved in aspects of climate change.
Their three main goals are to identify marginalized communities through an environmental justice lens, identify any infrastructure deficiencies each community faces, and assist those communities in securing funding to fill those gaps in infrastructure.
Pinkney notes this group won’t be in charge of any funding itself, but tasked with identifying and helping communities in the state leverage state and federal funds to make the necessary changes needed for those residents.
They are expected to deliver a final report by the end of next year.
Lawmakers also passed a bill earlier this year requiring 40 percent of Delmarva Power’s energy to come from renewable resources by 2035.
But that goal is far behind Biden’s, which seeks to bring the country to 100 percent carbon pollution free electricity the same year.
Roman Battaglia is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.