By Joseph Ax

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Democratic presidential contender Elizabeth Warren vowed on Wednesday to protect minority- and low-income communities from the effects of pollution and climate change, arguing that vulnerable populations had suffered for decades because of federal inaction.

Warren is the latest Democratic candidate to emphasize environmental justice as part of an overall approach to climate change, calling for policies that take into account racial and economic inequalities.

"The same communities that have borne the brunt of industrial pollution are now on the front lines of climate change," Warren wrote in a white paper outlining a series of proposals.

Many of the 19 Democratic candidates seeking to take on Republican President Donald Trump in next year's election have spoken about the need to address racial disparities when confronting climate change.

They include U.S. Senators Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California, both African-American, who have put environmental justice proposals at the center of their environmental platforms.

Warren, a U.S. senator from Massachusetts, has steadily risen in opinion polls and is now one of the top three Democratic candidates in terms of overall support, along with former Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

In her proposal, Warren argued that years of discriminatory housing and other practices had forced people of color and impoverished people into areas most likely to be harmed by pollution and the effects of climate change, such as flooding.

She said she would direct one third of her proposed climate investment – at least $1 trillion – to vulnerable communities over a decade and would require all U.S. agencies to consider climate impacts on such communities when making decisions on permits and rules.

Warren also said she would reinstate a tax on petroleum and chemical companies that expired in the 1990s to bolster the Superfund program, which cleans up polluted sites around the country. The senator proposed legislation that would ensure affected individuals and communities can sue corporate polluters in federal court, where such lawsuits have faced legal hurdles.

The proposal calls for a lead abatement program focused on daycare centers and schools and increased investments in updating aging water infrastructure, although the campaign did not put a specific dollar figure on those efforts.

Disaster planning and relief efforts would be more attuned to vulnerable populations under a Warren administration, she said, including a new commission to ensure help for disabled victims of disasters and more disaster assistance for renters and residents of federally subsidized housing.

Warren's clean energy plan released last month would commit $3 trillion over 10 years to bolster efforts to reach 100% zero-carbon pollution for all new buildings by 2028, 100% zero emissions for most new vehicles by 2030 and 100% zero emissions in electricity generation by 2035.

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