July 27th, 2010
11:43 AM ET

EPA chief puts new focus on 'environmental justice'

EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson wants her agency to consider “environmental justice” before taking action.

"Historically, the low-income and minority communities that carry the greatest environmental burdens haven't had a voice in our policy development or rule making,” Jackson said in a statement.

In a letter to staffers, Jackson said her interim guidance was designed to integrate environmental justice into the “fabric” of agency decision-making, scientific analysis and rule development. Environmental justice was defined as “fair treatment” and “meaningful involvement” for low-income and minority communities.

Lois Gibbs, founder and president of the Center for Health Environment & Justice, said giving these communities a voice was only half the battle.

“EJ [environmental justice] communities need more than a voice that is essentially a cry into the wind. Communities have to have the right to say ‘enough is enough’ and ‘no, you cannot do that in our community - we are already over burdened,’” Gibbs said in an e-mail.

Jackson’s agency-wide guidance marks another chapter in the federal government’s three decades old effort to understand and address environmental justice.

In 1983, the General Accounting Office (now the Government Accountability Office), looked at the siting of hazardous landfills in the Southeast and found they were uniformly located in low-income and minority communities.

In 1994, President Clinton signed an executive order to identify and address “disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of programs, policies, and activities on minority populations and low-income populations.”

In 2004 and again in 2006, EPA’s Inspector General concluded the agency had failed to effectively integrate that executive order into day-to-day operations.

Jackson's letter to EPA employees said the new guidance was meant to produce real change:

“Dirty air, polluted water, and contaminated lands have significant impacts on the health and economic possibilities of the people who live in overburdened communities. I have called on this U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to change … the situation on the ground.”

Note:  "Toxic Towns USA," part of Dr. Sanjay Gupta's yearlong environmental investigation, re-airs Saturday, July 31, at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. ET and Sunday, August 1, at 2 a.m. ET.

soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. Robert M. Noonan

    Environmental Justice? Oh yeah all for it. I vote we open a toxic waste dump in Malibu California or Greenwich Connecticut. Right like that is ever going to happen.

    Crybaby bed wetting liberal weenie hypocrites wouldn't do anything to upset their fat cat supporters on Wall street or in Hollywood.

    July 27, 2010 at 15:48 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Joy

      My advice to those who would comment before they think: Look up Superfund legislation. Chances are, there are sites right next door to you, leaching all manner of industrial chemicals into your water and your soil, poisoning you slowly. Arsenic, lead, cadmium. Asbestos, pentachlorophenol. And those are just from three sites within twenty miles of my house.

      That's what the EPA is talking about–environmental justice. The money that funds Superfund site cleanup is running low, and there is currently an initiative to reinstate taxes on polluting industries. It's stalling in Congress–why? Because businesses don't want regulations. They don't want to have to pay for their sins–they'd prefer to pay off their congressmen instead.

      July 27, 2010 at 22:33 | Report abuse |
  2. Jim

    Come to Louisiana MS Jackson and show us your environmental justice. We haven't seen any across any racial line. There are no indictments, rulings, and few if any legal comments on the Deepwater Horizon in this region. This is unfortunately more rhetoric.

    July 27, 2010 at 16:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. James

    You're kidding right. Doesn't the name James Watt ring a bell? Maybe Dick Cheney and GWB? Oil interests have always been a red state staple.

    Thank God we had that famed commie pinko tree-huggin' President sign the nation's toughest longest lived environmental law: God Bless Richard Nixon!

    July 27, 2010 at 16:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. william d. montjoye

    Dr. Gupta:
    The Mossville LA report was somewhat interesting. However, it is the same old story: "Who cares?" Not the EPA! The technology to make dioxins, ketones, phenols, furans, etc. (all potentially deadly chemicals created as a by-product of combustion and chemical plant processes related to the production of plastics) TOTALLY disappear was invented by the Westinghouse Corp. in 1947 in anticipation of EPA restrictions concerning the production of plastics in their factories. But -sad to say – the EPA and the government itself most likely felt that a blanket restriction would put too many businesses "out of business" and shut things down. Consequently, waivers were granted and the industries, including incinerators and power plants, have been producing toxic emissions ever since, and spending billions trying to control them, to no avail. These chemicals are the inevitable result of intermediate heat ranges in the process and these chemical effluents are the end result. They cannot be fully "controlled" and captured. They are all organic chemical compounds (based upon a hydrocarbon chain with chlorine and other things attached, which makes them easily destroyed IF you have the proper equipment. And, because this technology still exists, and has since 1947, there is no excuse whatsoever for any kind of poisonous emissions and leakages from chemical plants. The standard excuse the companies put up to force the government to back down is that it is too expensive, but that is a LIE; it is very cheap!

    And what is the "cost" of sickness and death? When the cure is here, and is inexpensive to install and operate, then what is the reason for not doing it? Stupidity? Or, I don't give a damn? And if this is the official government position then the public should take some kind of action to remove those people from office.

    I am available to give you more information if you want it.

    William D. Montjoye

    July 31, 2010 at 22:08 | Report abuse | Reply
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