Race and Income Are Not EJ Factors, Public Comments Needed
(Beyond Pesticides, August 9, 2005) In a recent move by the Bush Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency drafted a strategic plan on Environmental Justice (EJ) that defines environmental justice as "the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income [emphasis added], with respect to development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies." The EPA issued a supplemental notice in the Federal Register vol. 70 FR 43691, on July 28, 2005, reopening the public comment period for the draft "Framework for Integrating Environmental Justice" and "Environmental Justice Strategic Plan Outline."
To request a copy of these documents you can do so by calling (800) 962-6215 or (202) 564-2515. Although the original public comment period ended July 16, EPA announced on July 28 that it would hear comments until August 15.
According to EPA, the Environmental Justice Strategic Plan is designed to integrate environmental justice more fully into the Agency's operations. This would be a dramatic change in the focus of environmental justice efforts by the government. The Bush Administration has already been criticized for its approach to EJ issues by its own Inspector General. In March 2004, according to a report by EPA's Inspector General, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) failed to provide adequate protection to minorities and low-income families who are disproportionately affected by pollution (See Daily News).
On February 11, 1994, after years of pressure from the environmental-justice movement, former President Clinton issued Executive Order 12898, Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations. Executive Order 12898 was designated as an attempt to address environmental injustice within federal laws and regulations.
While EPA's plan may sound uncontroversial on the surface, many feel the trouble lies in the word regardless. Environmental justice is based on the idea that some people, specifically, racial minorities and the poor are more affected by environmental problems than others. Environmental Justice is based on substantial evidence, which has been accumulating for decades. In the early 1980s, a landmark U.S. General Accounting Office study found that three out of four landfills in the Southeast were located in communities of color. A 1992 National Law Journal study found that Superfund offenders paid 54 percent lower fines in communities of color than in white communities.
According to Grist Magazine, Robert Bullard, Executive Director of the Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark Atlanta University has called the EPA's draft "a giant step backwards." Other advocates agree. "We think this is the wrong direction for the EPA to go," says Will Rostov, staff attorney for Communities for a Better Environment, a California-based environmental-justice group. "Essentially what they're trying to do is not have an environmental-justice program." Eliminating considerations of race and income, he says, "makes the program meaningless."
This reaction extendeds beyond the world of environmental-justice activists. Within the past two weeks, more than 70 legislators, including Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), and Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), signed a letter saying that the EPA's draft plan "fails to address the real environmental-justice problems facing our nation's most polluted communities" and lambasting the dismissal of race as "a significant departure from existing environmental-justice policies." In their letter, the legislators also say the draft violates Clinton's 1994 executive order.
In addition to being unhappy with the plan itself, environmental-justice activists are troubled by the process surrounding it. The EPA says it welcomes outside comments on the draft, however Rostov criticizes the agency for permitting a "very short time frame" for such feedback. "One of the principles of environmental justice is getting the public to participate," he says, "and they allowed less than 30 days to have people comment, in the summer."
Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), one of the legislators who signed the letter criticizing the EPA draft, puts it even more bluntly. "It isn't that EPA doesn't know what problems exist," he said. "It's their willingness to do anything about it. Shame on them."
TAKE ACTION: Submit your comments by Monday, August 15th in response to The Draft Framework and Strategic Plan. Let EPA know that substantial evidence exists proving race and income are factors with regards to environmental justice and that there is still more work to do.