EPA Retreats From Environmental Justice
Convoluted Guidance Paralyzes Decisions as Priority Pollution Efforts Ebb
Washington, DC — Rather than directly confront environmental justice challenges, the Environmental Protection Agency has issued internal guidance that is so convoluted and vague that it will stymie effective action, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). At the same time, EPA is allowing affirmative approaches to relieving the air pollution burden on the urban poor to languish.
In late July, EPA released its “Interim Guidance on Considering Environmental Justice During the Development of An Action” which proclaims that it “empowers decision-makers” to “integrate EJ [environmental justice] into the fabric of EPA’s” actions. The actual guidance, however, lays out a stultifying multi-step process steeped in terms that seem designed to encourage inaction. For example, a flow-chart maps out 29 possible steps for “incorporating environmental justice” including sphinx-like admonitions such as –
- “Identify whether EJ concerns have been addressed. Be prepared to answer 3 core questions.” and;
- “If applicable, address outreach, consider highlighting EJ options for comment, and address significant EJ issues in Action Memo.”
“This new guidance imprisons environmental justice inside a bureaucratic Rubik’s Cube that will confound even the most ardent EPA employee,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting Administrator Lisa Jackson has declared environmental justice one of her priority issues. “This continues the pattern at EPA on environmental justice of putting process over substance.”
By contrast, this June the EPA Office of Inspector General slammed EPA for a decade-long failure to implement national urban air toxics control plans, designed to alleviate a major public health threat to the nation’s urban centers with concentrations of disadvantaged populations. The Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 required EPA to develop a strategy to reduce air toxics emissions in urban areas, particularly from small stationary sources. While the agency was required to issue new urban emissions standards in 2000 for these smaller local sources, such as cars, dry cleaners and gas stations, EPA failed to follow through. Yet EPA figures show acute risks from these local sources – potentially causing cancer in one in 28,000 Americans with two million residents in areas where the lifetime risk was one in 10,000 or greater.
“Why can’t EPA make direct action to reduce the pollution load on urban poor a priority?” asked Ruch, decrying the lack of concrete results from EPA environmental justice efforts. “What good is a rhetorical commitment to environmental justice if our poorest citizens remain disproportionately exposed to toxins by virtue of where they live?”