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poorer for it.

poisoning the air in inner cities and
the children who breathed it, and we
are still fighting to end lead poisoning
from every source. We are striving to
end unsafe incineration and
landfilling, which can contaminate the
water people drink, the land their
homes are built on, and the air they
breathe. We are working to reduce
pesticide use and eliminate the most
toxic pesticides, so that people can eat
safe food and farmworkers will not be
poisoned.

This is not to say that there is no room for improvement. The point is that the two movements are not so far apart as to be irreconcilable. The possibility for partnership exists, and not only in the arena of public health, but also in that of conserving natural resources. Many of the ethnic cultures of this country have deep and longstanding traditions of reverence for the natural world and an abhorrence of the exploitative practices that the mainstream environmental groups are fighting

And such partnerships can be enormously effective. The environmental justice movement has vital site-specific information, tremendous organizing ability, and expertise on questions of social justice. The national environmental groups have substantial technical, legal, and lobbying experience in environmental advocacy. The combination of these complementary skills can create a powerful synergy

Some recent examples from NRDC's experience: Joint efforts with the Mothers of East Los Angeles and Concerned Citizens of South Central Los Angeles effected the cancellation of plans to build California's first large-scale toxic waste incinerator in a low-income, primarily Hispanic community. Our work with West Harlem Environmental Action regarding foul odors emitted by a nearby sewage plant has helped build press attention to the problem, and we expect soon to file a lawsuit.

With the Cree nation of northern Quebec and with other organizations, we are beginning to articulate to the

Second—but by no means second in What this means is that we

priority-the national groups must are building our economy on listen to the environmental justice the backs of people of color activists and engage them as partners. and the poor.

Their priorities and perspectives must be among the factors shaping our agenda. The issues of racism, poverty,

and environmental degradation are the state of California to establish a intertwined, and we cannot solve one state-of-the-art mandatory lead testing without addressing the others. What program for poor children.

this means is that the mainstream All of us in the national

environmental movement must learn environmental groups need to broaden from those who have experience in and deepen our alliances with the social justice issues where we are environmental justice movement. To novices. Moreover, we must come to accomplish this, we must do two

recognize and respect the traditions of things. First, we must diversify our reverence for the Earth that so many staffs to better reflect the heterogeneity communities of color have fostered,

and learn from them to enrich our own
perspective. And we must support the
continuing growth of the
environmental justice movement by
sharing our resources in technical
analysis, legal work, lobbying strength,
and fund-raising capability.

And so our most urgent need is for
dialogue. It is critical that the national
environmental groups listen to people
of color on their own terms.
Correspondingly, my plea to the
environmental justice movement itself
is for continued communication and
participation in this dialogue. We
stand ready to work with you. We
have made mistakes and no doubt we
will continue to make them, but we
are willing to learn and trying to
change. If our two movements can join
forces effectively on our common
issues, we will be a formidable force
for genuine and lasting protection of
the human environment. O

Petricic. Reprinted with permission. Cartoonists & Writers Syndicate.

MARCH/APRIL 1992

27

Expanding the Dialogue
A CHALLENGE TO EPA

by Deeohn Ferris

An Environmental Justice Office is Needed

The

he environmental justice

Latinos, Native Americans, Asian movement forged by activists such Pacific Islanders, African Americans, as the Gulf Coast Tenants Association, Chinese Americans, other people of the Southwest Organizing Project, the color, and people with low incomes Panos Institute, the United Church of constitute the broadest and most Christ, and other grass-roots

complex constituency that the Agency organizations impels governments, has to serve. What they have in environmental groups, and social common, what unites them, is that justice organizations to question the they are systematically subjected to effects of their programs and policies higher doses of pollution than are on people of color. EPA should not other segments of society. Remedying only join this dialogue but, in

this disparity is the foremost challenge partnership with these groups, assume that the Agency confronts. a leadership role in correcting the

Consider the example of Richmond, status quo.

California, a heavily minority The keystone of this quest for justice community where nearly 400 is equal protection, not equal

industrial facilities store and release pollution. To adopt this justice agenda, into the environment over 200 EPA must revise its policies in the hazardous and toxic chemicals. interest of protecting everyone's

According to one grass-roots group, quality of life. Addressing the impact Citizens for a Better Environment, of lead on African American children annual air emissions from these plants and the effects of pesticides on

total 800,000 pounds, and annual Chicano farm workers is no less

hazardous waste production totals important than addressing Alar

179,000 tons. African American and residues on apples eaten by

Latino residents who live closest to middle-class kids.

these facilities have organized with the Whether or not government

goal of reducing emissions and programs are intended to foster

improving monitoring and health risk disproportionate impact on people of assessments, but there has been no color, the results are the same. EPA meaningful federal response to aid should recognize that harm

their efforts. perpetuated by benign inadvertence is

Last summer, a railway-car herbicide as injurious as harm by purposeful spill in the Sacramento River, which intent. Regardless of guilt, blame, or killed several thousand fish, received politics, EPA should seek justice by more attention than the estimated initiating an Agency-wide priority 300,000 farm workers, most of whom investigation to reveal which practices, are people of color, who may be programs, and policies nurture

poisoned every year by pesticides. inequality. Based upon these findings, Migrant workers face the toxic triple the Agency can establish a major effort threat of pesticides, dump sites, and to remedy data gaps, establish

contaminated drinking water. long-term plans to minimize levels of Meanwhile, EPA's long-awaited exposure in communities of color, and farm-worker protection rules institute environmental protection for continually are postponed. everyone.

Louisiana residents located in the

heavily minority corridor between (Ferris is Director of Environmental

New Orleans and Baton Rouge have Quality for the National Wildlife

experienced the inequitable Federation.)

distribution of pollution since plants

were built up and down the river beginning in the 1950s. The water is contaminated soup, the air is fouled, ailments and disease levels are high. Since many residents depend on the companies for their livelihood, they suffer the combined consequences of exposure both inside and outside the plants. For decades, this dual environmental contamination has threatened their quality of life without respite, but government has paid no attention.

Across the nation, similar circumstances continue unabated. Clearly, EPA and other federal agencies need to form a partnership to address the relationship between pollution and minority communities—from lead risks associated with paint, drinking water, and combustion to those risks caused by polluting industries, whose operations and discharges cause enormous harm to human health, wildlife, and the environment.

EPA can develop a model program, and the time for action is now. The first step is to establish a high-level Office of Environmental Justice with functional responsibilities and a budget sufficient to implement them. EPA spending should match its commitment to parity.

As a principal objective, this office could develop an environmental policy that creates a presumption of justice by requiring equity impact analyses as part of the process for promulgating major regulations, issuing key policies, and conducting programmatic reviews.

The Office of Environmental Justice would integrate its theme into EPA's operating guidance and strategic plans, as well as the Agency's research and data collection agendas. The office could spearhead formation of consortiums with academic institutions for people of color, including Historically Black Colleges

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Everyone's quality of life is at stake.

the office could facilitate the Agency's in direction is overcoming the progress in relieving the enormously perception commonly held by people high environmental impact

of color that EPA values corporate experienced by people of color. Under interests and white middle and upper the auspices of this office, EPA should classes over the lives of people of embark on an aggressive outreach color. Inevitably, for example, EPA's effort centered on education,

response in relocating residents of information exchange, and problem dioxin-contaminated Times Beach and solving.

Love Canal invites contrast to the The Environmental Justice Office action taken by the Agency when should also have an active role in

subsistence anglers in communities of states' implementation of delegated color around this nation were programs, reviewing state/EPA

discovered to be eating fish agreements to ensure that these

contaminated by dioxin from nearby relationships will be administered in a pulp and paper mills. Instead of socioeconomically race-neutral manner becoming directly involved and taking that results in equal protection.

preventive action to end the pollution, Compliance and enforcement

EPA adopted a hands-off attitude, initiatives should target facilities and deferring action to the states. This sites that foster the adverse conditions laissez faire approach allows states to occurring in minority communities. take actions that are often

EPA's current guidelines for cancer contradictory and, at best, do no more risk assessment, and the way that they than simply warn these people not to are used in many programs, protect the eat the fish. average white adult male but ignore Integrating the concerns of people of populations that are more at risk color into the Agency's regulatory because of increased exposure or process will lessen the sense that EPA special vulnerabilities, such as Native

pursues a biased approach to resolving Americans who fish to put protein on risk. A key element of this integration the table and nursing mothers. The involves recruitment and promoting Agency needs to adopt risk assessment workforce diversity. Segregation in the guidelines that consider economic EPA workforce fosters bias in decision status, cultural factors, synergistic making. effects of exposure to multiple sources What is ultimately at stake in the of pollution, and other distinctive environmental justice debate is characteristics that, cumulatively, can everyone's quality of life. The goal is result in disproportionate impact. equal protection, not equal pollution.

In the routine course of seeking Daily, Americans are subjected to amendments to improve environmental harmful contamination—sometimes at statutes, EPA can support provisions highly toxic levels—wildlife is that ensure adherence to an evaluation disappearing, and entire ecosystems process that would preclude any single are being destroyed. In the metaphor of area from being burdened with an a rapidly sinking ship, we're all in the undue share of polluting facilities or same boat and people of color are sites. Pursuant to these amendments, closest to the hole. EPA and other EPA would authorize only those state federal agencies must concentrate programs that are designed to remedy foremost on saving those around the disproportionate effects.

hole; then, plug the leak and save us An integral component of any

all. O Agency plan to execute these changes

Copyright Sam Kittner.

and Universities (HBCUs), focusing on risk assessments, research, and development needs.

Widespread changes are needed in EPA's institutional focus. Working closely with community leaders and building bridges to grass-roots groups,

Expanding the Dialogue
A CHALLENGE TO CONGRESS

by Representative
Ronald V. Dellums

The Need for New Legislation

An

find it very interesting that when and their effects on "people of color." Americans discuss the issues of the

The conference was the culmination of environment, we tend to mean the

work and research that started with the pristine air of Montana, the beautiful release of the report called Toxic waters of Crystal Lake, and the

Wastes and Race, published by the spiraling mountains of the High

Commission for Racial Justice in 1987. Sierras. Still others may think about

As described in earlier articles, this the impending effects of global

report revealed several startling warming, the necessity of recycling, or

statistics which indicated that preserving ancient forests as the

minorities were disproportionately critical environmental issues of our

affected by environmental problems. time. Conspicuously absent from the The report, in turn, was followed in discussion are the issues that concern 1990 by the published Proceedings of minority communities throughout the Michigan Conference on Race and America.

the Incidence of Environment Hazards, African Americans and other

which further revealed that little minority peoples are now suffering attention was given to the severely from the effects of

environmental concerns of minorities. environmental degradation. Recent

The conveners of the conference, studies indicate a sharp rise in health

known as the Michigan Group, problems caused by polluted air,

subsequently approached my office to ingestion of lead, and polluted water; suggest that the Congressional Black they point to cancers possibly caused Caucus (CBC) convene a workshop at by toxic and hazardous wastes. At the its annual Legislative Weekend to same time, minority communities discuss problems of the environment suffer from other environmental

and its impacts on the minority problems. The problems of drug abuse community. I agreed, along with and poor housing must be addressed. Representatives Towns of New York,

As America moves into the 21st Conyers of Michigan, and Lewis of century, environmental concerns

Georgia, to sponsor a workshop to become an imperative for constructive begin the process of finding strategies legislative and citizen action. I am to combat situations that exist in dismayed by the fact that, although minority communities across America. Americans are very concerned with

Simultaneously, the Michigan Group environmental policy in general,

approached EPA, requesting that the insufficient attention is paid to the Agency establish an initiative to environment and its effects on

address environmental justice (equity) minority communities.

issues. Upon learning of the Michigan In light of these circumstances, last Group's effort, I joined several of my October in Washington, DC, the first

CBC colleagues in a letter to National People of Color

Administrator Reilly, requesting that Environmental Leadership Summit

he respond favorably to their request. was organized to focus specific

For many years I have expounded attention on environmental problems my belief that environmental concerns

are not solely the interest of white, (Dellums (D-California) is Chairman of middle-class America. Toxic waste and the Committee on the District of

pollution, like nuclear weapons, are Columbia and a member of the Armed equal opportunity killers. Services Committee and the House

Unfortunately, minorities are now Select Committee on Intelligence.)

coming to believe that the environment

is of interest because of the
disproportionate impact it is having in
our communities. I look at report after
report that outlines the health
problems faced by minorities because
of lead poisoning, toxic and hazardous
waste problems, polluted air, and
pesticides. I am now encouraged
because many efforts to correct the
prevailing situation are being
undertaken. Grass-roots organizations
throughout the country are also raising
issues of environmental improvement.
EPA's February 1992 report on
environmental equity is only a first
step toward examining and resolving
these critical issues.

I believe that Congress must act now
to ensure that the disproportionate
impact of environmental degradation
upon minority communities is
addressed. The reauthorization of the
Resource Conservation Recovery Act
(RCRA) provides an excellent
opportunity to strengthen the country's
toxic and hazardous waste law. There
are additional proposals that will
further strengthen toxic and hazardous
waste laws. The Community Right to
Know More Act of 1991 would amend
RCRA to expand public reporting on
toxic chemical use and emissions and
require companies to develop
use-reduction plans. The Pollution
Prevention, Community Recycling, and
Incinerator Moratorium Act would
amend RCRA to place a moratorium on
the construction of new incinerators
until waste prevention programs are
fully implemented. I support both
these bills because I believe that they
can help reduce the incidence of
environmentally related health
problems in minority communities.

In addition, I have introduced the
Emergency Climate Stabilization and
Earth Regeneration Act of 1992. This
bill provides a new impetus to develop
a U.S. integrated jobs program covering
social, pollution, and climate

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benefit from efforts to enhance
environmental quality. We must begin
immediately to address all the
problems caused by environmental
degradation. I am calling upon all the
major environmental organizations to
get involved in the environmental
justice movement so that we can
ensure a healthy, sound America for
all citizens. I am hopeful that one day
soon the term "environment” will no
longer be considered just a term of,
and for, white middle-class America. O

emergencies. It would also reduce the

purposes. level of carbon dioxide in the Earth's It is imperative that EPA establish a atmosphere through a massive jobs department-level office that can program that would address all areas coordinate and enforce the issues of of pollution in America.

environmental equity. The Agency I will also consider supporting or announced in its recently released introducing legislation to address the report that the issues of environmental issue of the disproportionate numbers equity are a priority. If so, then of toxic and hazardous waste facilities adequate funds should be requested to located in or near communities of set up an office that can be responsible color. I am currently in the process of for issues of environmental concern. examining several proposals that will As I said earlier, the issues of the suspend the placement of toxic waste environment are among the most facilities in minority communities. critical for our nation as we approach

We must allocate funds to problems the 21st century. We are all familiar where they are most severe. I support with the problems of global warming, efforts to expand Technical Assistance climate change, clean air, clean water, Grants that encourage the growth and and safe drinking water. It is time the expansion of grass-roots organizations nation woke up to the reality that which provide education and

minority communities are suffering information on environmental hazards greatly at this moment from the to communities of color. Grants should adverse effects of pollution, also be made available to Historically unrestrained development, and false Black Colleges and Universities to progress. foster research and development in America has a serious job to do if it areas of concern and for other

is to ensure that all of its citizens

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