The current political moment would not be possible without Georgia. Right now, Congress is considering a multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure package that could dramatically improve communities across the country and put us on the path to 100 percent clean energy in the next decade. None of this would have been possible without the voters across our state that made their voices heard and flipped Georgia’s congressional delegation in 2020.

President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda is an unprecedented investment in our nation’s infrastructure. No legislation like it has been presented to Congress since FDR’s New Deal. But, where the New Deal failed to invest in communities of color, the Build Back Better plan provides equitable solutions to intentionally help marginalized Black communities. The plan includes investments such as replacing every lead water pipe in the country and weatherizing millions of homes to help lower utility bills. Marginalized communities stand to benefit in ways most of us have only dreamed were possible. Biden’s agenda also presents an opportunity to repair our broken infrastructure, while dramatically cutting power bills for those communities with the greatest energy burdens, many located in Georgia. The Build Back Better plan is finally the type of legislation that can truly create a more equitable energy future for all.

Black communities have suffered from environmental racism for generations. Black Codes and Jim Crow Laws created the policies which allowed for the development of air polluting and water contaminating industries, harmfully close to Black neighborhoods all over the state. Today, many of these policies remain in place and continue to adversely impact communities. For the past 156 years, Black communities have been plagued with disproportionate exposure to toxic pollution in the air and water. Generations of families have, and are, suffering from higher rates of heart disease, diabetes, reproductive issues, and asthma as a result. 

Nowhere is environmental racism more evident than in DeKalb County, Ga., a predominantly Black community, where residents have been subjected to highly polluted waterways, including the South River where an estimated 32 million gallons of raw sewage has been dumped since 2014. Outdated water and sewer infrastructure has burdened low-income DeKalb families with exorbitant and unpredictable utility bills for years. Economic and environmental atrocities in communities like DeKalb County are almost commonplace all over Georgia.

It is critically important to make investments in a manner that responds to the unique challenges facing Black communities. In his Justice40 commitment, Biden directed that 40 percent of the overall benefits of federal action flow directly to disadvantaged communities, including the remediation and reduction of legacy pollution and the development of critical clean water infrastructure. Federal funding under Justice40 could solve local issues like upgrading DeKalb County’s water infrastructure and cleaning up the South River. It is past time for the Black residents of Georgia to live in a world where their lives are not hampered by the color of their skin. It’s time for justice. 

We finally have a chance to repair some of the historic and present-day damage caused by exclusionary policies. We have a chance to invest in an economy that isn’t built off pollution, but clean affordable energy for all. With Pres. Biden in the White House, Senators Ossoff and Warnock, and a pro-environment majority in Congress, environmental justice for DeKalb County and all of Georgia, is possible –at the scale our communities deserve. 

President Biden has made it clear that he will fight to ensure the Justice40 commitment will stay in the final infrastructure bill. But if this past election taught us anything, we know we cannot take anything for granted. The only way to deliver the future we want is to show up and make our voices heard. Senators Ossoff and Warnock have an opportunity to deliver for Georgia voters by ensuring that Biden’s full Build Back Better agenda passes through the Senate with Justice40 at the center. Georgia communities need a bill that delivers jobs, justice, and swift climate action. Let’s make sure they hear our voices again.

Alicia Scott is Alicia Scott Just Energy Manager for Partnership for Southern Equity. (Photo Credit: Courtesy of Alicia Scott)