New IG Study Blasts EPAs Environmental Justice Record
Latest Study Follows a String of Reports Giving EPA a Failing Grade on EJ
by Robert D. Bullard
September 25, 2006 -- The EPAs Office of Inspector General (IG) recently issued another study, EPA Needs to Conduct Environmental Reviews of Its Program, Policies, and Activities, chastising the agency for falling down on the job when it comes to implementing environmental justice. The Sept. 18, 2006 IG study answers the question I posed a couple of weeks ago on 9/11 in the article "Can Americans Trust the Government to Protect Them?" This is not rocket science, but mostly political science.
The IG study may be new but its findings are not. The IG recommended and EPA accepted the following recommendations:
In 1992, after mounting scientific evidence and much prodding from environmental justice advocates, the EPA produced its own study, Environmental Equity: Reducing Risks for All Communities, finally acknowledging the fact that some populations shouldered greater environmental health risks than others. The report found "clear differences between racial groups in terms of disease and death rates; racial minority and low-income populations experience higher than average exposures to selected air pollutants, hazardous waste facilities, contaminated fish and agricultural pesticides in the workplace; and great opportunities exist for EPA and other government agencies to improve communication about environmental problems with members of low-income and racial minority groups."
And on February 11, 1994, environmental justice reached the White House when President William J. Clinton signed Executive Order 12898, Federal Actions To Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations. The Order mandated federal agencies to incorporate environmental justice into all of their work and programs.
It is ironic that environmental justice at the U.S. EPA was initiated under the George H. Bush Administration. However, environmental justice has faltered and all but become invisible at the EPA under the George W. Bush Administration. This fact is made crystal clear by a string of government reports that are critical of the agency.
In a 2003 report, Not in My Backyard: Executive Order 12,898 and Title VI as Tools for Achieving Environmental Justice, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights concluded that "Minority and low-income communities are most often exposed to multiple pollutants and from multiple sources. . . . There is no presumption of adverse health risk from multiple exposures, and no policy on cumulative risk assessment that considers the roles of social, economic, and behavioral factors when assessing risk."
A March 2004 IG report, EPA Needs to Consistently Implement the Intent of the Executive Order on Environmental Justice, summed up the treatment of environmental justice under the Bush administration. After a decade, EPA "has not developed a clear vision or a comprehensive strategic plan, and has not established values, goals, expectations, and performance measurements" for integrating environmental justice into its day-to-day operations.
A July 2005 U.S. General Accountability Office report, Environmental Justice: EPA Should Devote More Attention to Environmental Justice When Developing Clean When Developing Clean Air Rules, also criticized EPA for its handling of environmental justice issues when drafting clean air rules.
And in July 2005, the EPA was met with a firestorm of public resistance when it proposed dropping race from its draft Environmental Justice Strategic Plan as a factor in identifying and prioritizing populations that may be disadvantaged by the agency's policies. The proposal was described as "a giant step backward" and "a road map for other federal agencies to do nothing."
EPAs Office of Environmental Justice has been rendered ineffectual. Its only major claim to fame is a weekly Environmental Justice in the News report, a weekly summary of select environmental justice news actions from the Lexis/Nexis database. This summary could easily be produced by a first-year graduate student with a $600 laptop and Google search engine. EPAs National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC), before it was completely dismantled, was jokingly referred to as Knee Jerk. It took the August 2005 environmental devastation of Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf Coast for EPA to bring back NEJACactions seen as too little and too late to have any lasting impact.
Grassroots environmental justice groups are not sitting back waiting for government to ride in to save them. Beginning on Sunday September 24, a coalition of over 70 environmental justice, social justice, public health, human rights, and workers rights groups have launched the National Environmental Justice for All Tour to highlight the devastating impact of toxic contamination on people of color and in poor communities across the United States.
Three bus caravans packed with activists, health researchers, environmental scientists, and public policy experts will tour communities in the Northeast, South, and West Coast, where people are suffering serious health effects associated with toxic pollution. Organizers say the Tour will provide advocacy tools to affected communities and put pressure on Congressional leaders to make the elimination of environmental hazards a priority issue in the upcoming elections.
Robert D. Bullard is the director of the Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark Atlanta University and author of The Quest for Environmental Justice: Human Rights and the Politics of Pollution (Sierra Club 2005).