Washington, DC — Two days after issuing a press release touting its “Environmental Justice Showcase Communities” initiative, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sent an internal “clarification” that funds are not meant for target communities, according to an e-mail released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Instead, the money will be split among EPA regional offices.
The episode raises doubts about the substance behind vows by Obama appointees to meaningfully revive environmental justice policy launched under the Clinton administration to address inequitable pollution impacts and environmental burdens afflicting disadvantaged communities, racial and ethnic minorities.
In the November 17, 2009 EPA news release, “Administrator Lisa P. Jackson announced a national initiative to address environmental justice challenges in 10 communities”: Bridgeport (CT), Staten Island (NY), Washington, D.C., Jacksonville (FL), Milwaukee (WI), Port Arthur (TX), Kansas City (KS and MO), Salt Lake City (UT), Los Angeles (CA), and Yakima (WA). The release strongly implies that the $1 million in Showcase Community funds would actually go into the targeted communities, concluding with:
“Since 1994, EPA has provided more than $32 million in general funding to more than 1,100 community-based organizations.”
On November 19, 2009, Kent Benjamin, Associate Director of the EPA Office of Environmental Justice (OEJ), sent an e-mail to agency officials citing “misrepresentations in the media” and “confusion” that required “points of clarification,” including:
- “The EJ Showcase Communities Project is NOT a GRANT program. It is a reprogramming of funds from OEJ Headquarters to the regional EJ program efforts.”
- Merits of community selection are murky: “There is concern and curiosity about how the project locations were selected. I would encourage you to either include the description of your decision making process in your implementation plan or attach it to the previously completed plan” and
- Planned accomplishments remain unclear: “OEJ and EJ Showcase Communities priorities team will provide feedback on proposed funds usage to encourage consistency among the range of possible uses.”
“Contrary to the official spin, not a dime of this environmental justice funding is guaranteed to reach a single Showcase Community,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that EPA failed to issue a clarifying news release. “This program suggests that EPA still operates under the paternalistic attitude that it knows what is best for neighborhoods suffering from past failures of pollution control.”
In her seminal statement of the central role of environmental justice this July, Administrator Jackson said:
“In the years ahead, I want to see a full-scale revitalization of what we do and how we think about environmental justice. This is not an issue we can afford to relegate to the margins. It has to be part of our thinking in every decision we make….My friends, the EPA is once again guided by a broad vision of public health protection and environmental preservation. Environmental justice is central to that vision.”
“Despite the rhetoric, environmental justice remains on the periphery of EPA decision-making,” added Ruch. “Too much environmental justice activity at EPA thus far has been more process but no product – and certainly too little real support for communities bearing the brunt of environmental injustice.”