(Beyond Pesticides, February 22, 2007) On February 16, 2007, Representatives Hilda Solice (D-CA), Alcee Hastings (D-FL) and Mark Udall (D-CO) and Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and John Kerry (D-MA) introduced the Environmental Justice Act of 2007 to the 110th Congress. The legislation was introduced to protect communities of color and low-income communities from the on-going disproportionate burden of the negative human health and environmental impacts of pollution that they are exposed to.
The act was introduced as a way to fully implement the 1994 Executive Order 12898, Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations, an act to ensure that all federal agencies and their programs and rules are protecting our nation’s most vulnerable communities. The bill will require the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to fully implement recommendations included in three recent government reports and it will create reporting requirements, including an update on the inclusion of environmental justice in EPA’s emergency command response structure.
The reports noted the failure of EPA to ensure that its policies, rules and regulations protect environmental justice communities. In 2004, the EPA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) found that the agency has not fully implemented the Executive Order nor has it defined or developed criteria for determining who is disproportionately impacted. In 2005, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that EPA failed to consider the impact of its air regulations on minority and low-income communities, and in 2006, OIG reported that EPA “cannot determine whether its programs cause disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects on communities of color and low-income populations.”
Rep. Solis said, “For far too long federal agencies have disregarded the health of minority and low-income communities, choosing instead to reinterpret the Executive Order so that it fits the policies they want to promote.” Rep. Solis continued, “This legislation is a critical first step to achieving real and lasting justice for minority and low-income communities across this country. Codifying the Executive Order will empower communities without a voice to join in the fight to protect their health and welfare.”
Senator Durbin said that, “Healthy communities are important to everyone. And the simple truth is that our most vulnerable communities have not been treated fairly.” Senator Durbin continued, “Minority neighborhoods, the elderly and low-income communities bear disproportionate environmental risks and hazards and the investments and benefits to fix these problems are not equally distributed. This bill will change that by requiring the EPA to act to protect these communities from additional sources of pollution.”
Rep. Hastings said, “More than a decade after Executive Order 12898, the time has come for federal agencies to truly embrace the vision of empowered citizens and healthy communities.” According to Rep. Hastings, “This legislation will mandate the EPA accountability that communities of color and low-income families have been dying to achieve for many years. Through the open process that brought forth this legislation, the people have spoken!”
Meanwhile Senator Kerry said the bill was introduced as a means to ensure environmental protection for all communities. Senator Kerry said that “it is not only unacceptable; it is immoral to leave minority and low-income families bearing the brunt of our nation’s pollution problems. Unfortunately, the Bush Administration has turned the very definition of environmental justice on its head. We can do better – and we should start by passing this legislation.”
Another bill sponsor, Rep. Udall said, “Too often, federal actions affecting the environment have hurt Americans in minority and lower-income communities that in some eyes have seemed expendable. Instead, federal policies must focus on providing clean, healthy and quality environments so these communities will have hope for the future and opportunities for their residents to improve their lives. Our bill is intended to help achieve that goal.”
The Environmental Justice Act of 2007 is endorsed by more than 15 organizations, including Beyond Pesticides, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Center for Health, Environment and Justice, Communities for a Better Environment, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark Atlanta University, Natural Resources Defense Council, Southwest Network for Environmental and Economic Justice, National Hispanic Environmental Council, National Small Town Alliance, Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment, Advocates for Environmental Human Rights, and Earthjustice.
For more information contact: Sonia Melendez in Rep. Solis’ office at (202) 225-5464; (202) 225-4573