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Energy and Commerce Committee Fights for Utility Relief and Environmental Justice in COVID-19 Response Bill

May 12, 2020
Press Release

Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Energy Subcommittee Chairman Bobby L. Rush (D-IL) and Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee Chairman Paul Tonko (D-NY) applauded the introduction of H.R. 6800, The Heroes Act, in the House of Representatives today.  The legislation includes several crucial provisions from the Committee that will prevent water and power shutoffs across the country, provide critical utility bill assistance for low-income families and authorize new grant funding to address COVID-19’s impact on environmental justice communities.

Now more than ever, Americans need to feel confident that their access to safe water and reliable power will continue uninterrupted, and this legislation provides that peace of mind,” said Pallone, Rush and Tonko. “Likewise, we are ensuring that the disproportionate impact this pandemic is inflicting on communities of color is investigated and addressed, and that the impacted communities will play a crucial role in that effort.  Passing this legislation is critical to protect public health and to provide much-needed economic relief for those struggling to afford the most basic of necessities.”

Prevent Home Energy and Water Service Shutoffs: Access to clean water is a basic human right at all times, and reliable power is essential to heat and cool homes, but both are particularly critical in the midst of a public health crisis that asks Americans to stay at home.  With disconnections resuming around the country, the Energy and Commerce Committee fought to require that states and utilities receiving federal emergency funds must adopt or maintain in force policies that prevent both water and energy shutoffs for the duration of the COVID-19 emergency.

Home Energy and Water Bill Assistance for Low-Income Households: Anti-shutoff requirements are a critical first step, but in an effort to address the growing economic crisis, the Committee also pushed to ensure low-income families receive help affording their water and energy bills.  The Heroes Act provides financial assistance to low-income and other adversely affected consumers to assist with payments for drinking water and wastewater expenses by establishing a new $1.5 billion program to provide grants to states, territories and Indian Tribes during the crisis.  The bill also appropriates $1.5 billion in additional funding for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) — the largest energy assistance program in the country, and a critical source of relief for the growing number of American families in need of aid.

Grants for Environmental Justice Communities: Recent reporting has shown that people of color and other environmental justice communities are being disproportionally impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.  Nationwide, black Americans represent 13.4 percent of the population, but studies show that counties with high populations of black Americans account for more than half of all coronavirus cases and nearly 60 percent of COVID-19 deaths.  At the same time, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has adopted an enforcement policy that weakens requirements for monitoring of environmental pollution.  In response, The Heroes Act would codify EPA’s environmental justice grant programs and provide up to $50 million in additional Fiscal Year 2020 funds for the sole purpose of investigating and addressing these disproportionate impacts of COVID-19.  This provision is based on legislation developed and introduced by Reps. Raul Ruiz (D-CA) and Donald McEachin (D-VA).