Black History Month

February 2021



In celebration of Black History Month, NCEL is recognizing Black state legislators across the United States. NCEL strives to base its environmental work in environmental justice and racial equity. 

Throughout the month of February, we’re lifting up these legislators for their commitment to environmental issues but also for their commitment to environmental justice and racial equity issues.

Reflections from the NCEL Board

State Senator Brenda Gilmore

Every February, we pause to uplift the pivotal role African-American’s have continued to play in the United States’ History, while also acknowledging all of the strides that are left to take. As members of NCEL, we recognize the importance of Environmental Justice and ensuring the most marginalized communities no longer suffer the negative impact of environmental hazards. By placing an emphasis on uplifting marginalized communities and striving toward racial equality, we will naturally begin to see a shift in environmental justice for all. As we devote this month to celebrating the Black community — I urge us all to continue in our efforts toward uplifting Black voices, striving toward racial equality, and advocating for environmental justice.

State Representative Chris Rabb

Environmental justice work is the lens through which I approach all environmental policies. In our work to protect the environment, we must ensure that protection is given to everyone – regardless of their race, economic status, or zip code. Throughout Black History Month, I look forward to highlighting Black legislators across the country who are dedicated to environmental justice. I’m also excited to look back in time at some historic Black scholars, organizers, and researchers who paved the way.

Legislator Spotlights

State Representative Stephanie Howse – Ohio

Why are environmental justice and centering anti-racism in your environmental work important to you?

“Environmental justice and centering anti-racism in my work is important because life itself cannot exist without a healthy environment. Since the creation of our government, the rules and regulations governing America have overwhelmingly been designed with the exclusion of most Americans and intentional harm to some Americans (Native Americans and Black Americans). It is my obligation to work to restore and renew what has been broken for far too many generations so that ALL Americans can truly live the American Dream.”

What is a piece of environmental legislation that you are proud of that addresses justice and equity issues?

“I’m currently working on legislation that is focused on clean energy that is framed around equity, transparency, and accountability. I have the privilege to work on the legislation with partners in Ohio committed to environmental justice, and am excited about the clean energy vision we are creating, because we are being intentional in building a policy to address the harm caused to community members and outlining how it can be paid for. It may not be the sexiest thing in the world, but I know, if we get this right, it will put Ohioans on a better pathway to having a healthier environment and enjoying life.”

Representative Dominique Jackson – Colorado

Why are environmental justice and centering anti-racism in your environmental work important to you?

“Many recent events, including the massive COVID related mortality and infection rates that are advanced by pollution and health access disparities in BIPOC – to the demarcation of which communities get their lights turned back on, their heat restored and access to clean water after a sustained arctic blast knocks out electrical grids – have clearly shown which neighborhoods face environmental racism. We all go to our respective legislative bodies carrying priorities that reflect our own lived-experiences. As a Black woman, I know what it’s like not to be believed or heard. As a science-believing state representative, it is my charge to do all that I can to advocate for people who bear a disproportionate share of environmental risks and who often enjoy fewer environmental benefits.”

What is a piece of environmental legislation that you are proud of that addresses justice and equity issues?

“I am about to introduce a bill, the “Colorado Environmental Justice Act,” that would, for the first time in my state’s history, define in statute a description of a community that’s been disproportionally impacted by air & water quality pollution. While the bill acknowledges that all Coloradans have a right to equal protection and participation regarding environmental issues, we need to address historical infringement, especially in Black, Indigenous and Latino/a/x communities. There is lots of new and exciting work happening to develop “mapping tools,” in Colorado and across the country, which will help to identify these neighborhoods. The bill would also give true voice and power to these residents who have faced systemic exclusion from decision-making processes and direct all state agencies who conduct environmental rulemakings to consider justice impacts.”

Representative Kim Schofield – Georgia

Why are environmental justice and centering anti-racism in your environmental work important to you?

“Environmental discrimination is rampant in underserved, economically challenged people and families in black and brown communities. Climate change and other environmental problems are heightened as legislation that disenfranchises people of color is introduced. Environmental health issues (water, soil, air, fuel…) significantly impact the quality of life and life expectancy in minority communities across the country.  Corporations and PACS tend to focus on environmental legislation to protect and benefit those who look like them and whose bank accounts are similar. We cannot work on environmental issues especially environmental health without addressing the underlying problem of systemic racism that contributes to these issues.” 

What is a piece of environmental legislation that you are proud of that addresses justice and equity issues?

“HR 70 – This Resolution creates a pathway for Georgia to create a state goal of 100 percent clean energy by 2050, the creation of thriving-wage green jobs, and an equitable clean energy transition. These issues will greatly impact all generations to come.

HB 36 – This Bill relating to buildings and housing, so as to require indoor air quality assessments of all public buildings and to require in all public building assessments for particle pollutants, nitrous oxide, sulfur dioxide, radon, carcinogens, asbestos, biological pollutants, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, pressed wood products, lead, pesticides, benzene, and all forms of mold and indoor humidity that is between 30 and 50 percent.  These measures will reduce the health impact for respiratory diseases, COVID-19 residuals, and future chronic disease triggers and can significantly reduce the cost of healthcare, loss of work, and continue to diminish the quality of lives impacted. This bill is starter legislation to addressing the health disparity and lack of health equity in environmental health and environmental justice in black and brown communities.”

Senator Troy Singleton – New Jersey

Why are environmental justice and centering anti-racism in your environmental work important to you?

“When we think about racial and social justice policy reforms, we cannot solely think about it in terms of police reform or civil rights laws. If we are truly to create a more just and fair society, we must do so in every aspect.  One where black and brown lives matter in crafting police reform, but also in education policy and environmental regulations.  That is why I have championed environmental justice and clean energy equity legislation here in New Jersey. Everyone –regardless of their zip code, income, or race –should have the right to breathe fresh air, drink clean water, access the opportunities of clean energy, and live free of toxic pollutants.

What is a piece of environmental legislation that you are proud of that addresses justice and equity issues?

“I am extremely proud of the landmark environmental justice legislation we passed and was signed into law here in New Jersey – Senate Bill 232. This law seeks to provide overburdened communities with the environmental justice they have long deserved. It authorizes the NJ Department of Environmental Protection to evaluate the environmental and public health impacts of certain facilities on “overburdened communities.” It then gives these communities an opportunity to voice their concerns during public hearings on the siting of future projects, and the renewal of existing ones.”