The Spirit of César Chávez is in the Oval Office
We’ve gone from hearing that we Latinos are criminals and drug traffickers, to seeing a bust of César Chávez sitting right behind the desk of our new president, Joe Biden.
In a few weeks, President Biden has administered a much-needed injection of vitality into a country plagued by a pandemic, an economy in ruins, Black and Brown people pleading for equity and justice, and a whole planet in a climate emergency.
For decades, the environmental movement has been demanding a full-fledged tackling of the climate crisis. Biden has finally made clear that this fight will remain an integral part of his administration, ordering federal agencies to begin a process of pollution reduction, and to establish the social cost of pollution and its climate risks.
With the stroke of a pen, Biden also derogated the construction permit of the disastrous Keystone XL oil pipeline, which would have transported the planet’s most toxic crude from Alberta, Canada, to ports in Texas. For 12 years, the environmental movement, fueled by local communities and Indigenous groups, has been fighting this climatic time bomb that every year would have spewed 181 million tons of CO2 to the atmosphere. Likewise, President Biden initiated the process to rejoin the Paris Agreement, thus putting an end to four embarrassing years in which the US became a climatic pariah.
Environmental justice constitutes a crucial component of these executive orders for frontline communities like mine, who disproportionately suffer the impact of dirty energy pollution and the climate crisis it triggers. This includes the creation of an external environmental justice council to identify reforms to achieve equity and inclusion in federal policy, and a commitment to targeting 40 percent of relevant federal investments at impacted communities.
Environmental justice constitutes a crucial component of these executive orders for frontline communities like mine, who disproportionately suffer the impact of dirty energy pollution and the climate crisis it triggers.
The integration of equity in the administration’s policies possesses an enormous economic potential for my community. In the short term, President Biden is creating a Civilian Climate Corps, which aims to offer well-paying jobs to younger Americans to work conserving and restoring public lands, protecting biodiversity, and addressing climate change. In the long term, the administration intends to close racial gaps in income and opportunity that would add $5 trillion to the US economy and create 6 million new jobs.
But perhaps the executive order with the biggest impact on this administration is an obscure memorandum signed by President Biden the evening of his inauguration. With the title “Modernizing Regulatory Revision,” the document opens the doors for his administration to promote “public health and safety, economic growth, social welfare, racial justice, environmental stewardship, human dignity, equity, and the interests of future generations.” According to observers, this document puts an end to 40 years of conservative priorities in the Executive Power’s functioning.
Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken close to 450,000 lives, infected more than 26 million people and overwhelmed hospital capacity in countless communities across the land. The Biden administration has declared science as its North Star in this fight and implemented a plan to inoculate 300 million people by the end of the summer. The plan is part of Biden’s $1.9-trillion budget proposal to stimulate the economy and assist millions of families devastated by the pandemic and its economic impact.
President Biden, moreover, has suspended the construction of his predecessor’s most hurtful symbol —the racist, destructive border wall—and ended its most despicable policy—family separations and the caging of small children at the border. Inviting the spirit of César Chávez into the Oval Office has its rewards.
Javier Sierra is a columnist with the Sierra Club. @javier_SC
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