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Bush Ignores Environmental Hazards to Minorities/Low-Income
(Beyond Pesticides, March 15, 2004)
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has failed to provide adequate protection to minorities and low-income families who are disproportionately affected by pollution, according to a report by EPA's Inspector General (IG), dated March 1, 2004. (Evaluation Report: EPA Needs to Consistently Implement the Intent of the Executive Order on Environmental Justice, Report No. 2004-P-000070) The report was sent from Kwai Chan, Assitant Inspector General for Program Evaluation to Stephen Johnson, Acting Deputy Administrator of EPA.

The IG's report concludes that an Executive Order on Environmental Justice (Federal Action to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-income Populations, Executive Order 12898), signed by President Clinton in 1994, has not been fully implemented nor has EPA "consistently integrated.environmental justice into its day-to-day operations" The report states, "EPA has not identified minority and low-income, nor identified populations address in the Executive Order, and has neither defined nor developed criteria for determining disproportionately impacted." Disproportionately impacted is defined by the IG as a generic term used by EPA, regions, and stakeholders to define the adverse effects of environmental actions that burden minority and/or low-income populations at a higher rate than the general populations.

Moreover, the report discloses that the Bush Administration reinterpreted the order two years ago -- without authority to do so -- to shift emphasis away from the very populations the order was written to protect. The report states, "We believe the Agency is bound by the requirement of Executive Order 12898 and does not have the authority to reinterpret the order. The Acting Deputy Administrator needs to reaffirm the Executive Order 12898 applies specifically to minority and low-income populations that are disproportionately impacted." The administration then defended its action by stating that it would provide environmental justice to "everyone." The EPA's response states, "The Agency does not accept the Inspector General's central and baseline assumption that environmental justice only applies to minority and/or low-income individuals. The EPA firmly believes that environmental justice belongs to all people. . ."

The IG's report dismissed this defense as misleading. "We believe the Executive Order was specifically issued to provide environmental justice to minority and/or low-income populations due to concerns that those populations had been disproportionately impacted by environmental risk."

The report points out that providing justice to "everyone" was already the EPA's mission prior to the 1994 order.

The report further finds that the EPA has yet to develop "a clear vision or comprehensive strategic plan, and has not established values, goals, expectations, and performance measurements" for integrating environmental justice into its policies. As a result, any protections provided to minorities and low-income families from environmental hazards have been spotty and solely dependent upon regional EPA initiatives.

"After 10 years, there is an urgent need for the Agency to standardize environmental justice definitions, goals, and measurements for the consistent implementation and integration of environmental justice at EPA," the report states.

Minority and low-income families often suffer greater exposure to environmental hazards than other populations because industrial plants tend to be situated in or near low-income neighborhoods, and people of color, including farmworkers, are disproportionately in high risk job with exposure to toxic chemicals..

One example of why minority and low-income neighborhoods need special protection is a Bush administration plan to allow coal-fired power plants to buy "credits" from cleaner plants instead of reducing their own mercury emissions. Recent hearings on the Bush plan in several U.S. cities brought out residents concerned that they would be further victimized if they lived near a plant that purchased credits instead of cleaning up.

After a hearing in Philadelphia, The Philadelphia Inquirer cited a testimonial from Ms. Mable Mallard of South Philadelphia, a resident "who gauges when to venture outside based on which way the wind is blowing the pollution from the seven nearby smokestacks."

ACTION: Contact Barry E. Hill, Director, Office of Environmental Justice, 202-564-2515, hill.barry@epa.gov and let him know that EPA should comply with Executive Order 12898 and give specific attention to the disproportionate hazards borne by minority and low-income people under existing environmental programs. Tell him, like the Inspector General, that providing justice to "everyone" was already the EPA's mission prior to the 1994 order and the Office of Environmental Justice and the Bush Administration should stop ignoring people of color who are at highest environmental health risk. Send a copy of your letter to EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt and to president@whitehouse.gov.

For information on location sensitive populations (schools, hospitals, etc.) and demographic data in the United States, including your neighborhood, to to EPA's easy-to-use map. For more information on tracking the Bush administration's environmental policies and compliance, contact BushGreenwatch, 1320 18th Street, NW, 5th Floor, Washsington, DC 20036, 202-463-6670.