In 1979, when U.S. Rep. Cori Bush was a young girl growing up in St. Louis, a groundbreaking study showed that children “who had high lead in their teeth, but who had never been identified as having any problems with lead, had lower IQ scores, poorer language function, and poorer attention.” It was around then that the hazardous effects of lead paint entered the public consciousness. By the late 1970s, lead in drinking water and paint were among the culprits leading to high lead levels in almost 9 out of 10 American children.
“I remember talking about lead paint as a child, hearing about it on the television and showing up at parks and people testing us for lead. It was like this thing when I was a kid, and it just went away,” Bush recalled.
But high lead levels, in addition to other environmental hazards, continue to have serious consequences. In addition to the aforementioned developmental effects, lead can cause kidney and brain damage. Extremely high levels can be deadly.
Similar to the American Rescue Plan, Bush is introducing a bill that would directly fund local governments to address lead and other hazards. The Green New Deal for Cities would authorize $1 trillion in spending over the next four years. Funding would go toward environmental justice projects that align with the Green New Deal.
Bush joined St. Louis on the Air host Sarah Fenske for an exclusive look at the proposal. Bush said the bill would fund efforts to improve clean drinking water infrastructure, remediate lead paint and mold, provide air quality monitors, prevent floods and more.
“This whole thing is about saving lives,” Bush said. “And then there are labor provisions in this bill to make sure that the workers are well paid and well treated for work. We have to build a system around making sure we take care of workers."
Half of the money in the bill would go toward investing in “front-line communities and climate mitigation,” which Bush explained would help communities that are disproportionately impacted by climate change.
She gave the example of addressing asthma concerns among Black children in St. Louis, who are 10 times as likely to visit the emergency room for asthma-related problems. The bill would also support reparations programs for Black and Indigenous people and their communities.
“The urgency of this climate crisis and environmental racism demands that we equip our cities and our local governments with this funding,” she said.
Bush is co-introducing the Green New Deal for Cities legislation alongside Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Other representatives on board with the initiative include Jamaal Bowman, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Carolyn B. Maloney, Frederica S. Wilson, Nikema Williams, Mondaire Jones, Gerald E. Connolly, Pramila Jayapal, Jamie Raskin, Marie Newman, Nanette Diaz Barragán, Adriano Espaillat, Jesús G. “Chuy” García, Barbara Lee, Juan Vargas, Ayanna Pressley, Steve Cohen and Ritchie Torres.
The proposal is supported by environmental and activist groups including People’s Action, Labor Network for Sustainability, Climate Justice Alliance, Indigenous Environmental Network and the Gulf Coast Center for Law and Policy.
In her first 100 days in Congress, Bush has co-sponsored 98 bills.
“We promised that when we came in on Day One, that we will be ready on Day One,” she said. “St. Louis has been in a place for so long where we've been looking for change and not even really understanding what was holding up some of the change. Well, now we're like, ‘Look, give it all to us. Let's try to get as much done as we can.’
“We have the House, we have the Senate and we have the presidency. And so we're really trying to make sure that we utilize that while we can.”
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.