Kerry, House and Senate Environmental Leaders Call for Administration To Reverse Backwards March on Environmental Justice

Bush Plan fails to address real environmental justice problems facing our nation’s communities

Washington, DC – Several members of Congress — led by Senators John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and U.S. Representatives Hilda L. Solis (D-Calif.) and Alcee L. Hastings (D-Fla.) — today are urging the Environmental Protection Agency to drastically improve the shortcomings in the agency’s environmental justice plan. In a letter to EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson, nearly 80 legislators asked the EPA to reverse its failed course on environmental justice and start putting forth a real plan to improve the dangerous effects of pollution in our most vulnerable communities.

The EPA’s draft Environmental Justice Strategic Plan fails to reduce the existing disparate impacts of pollution on low-income and minority communities and may actually contribute to the future increase of these impacts. Specifically, the Strategic Plan disregards race as an environmental justice consideration and fails to provide the necessary tools to identify environmental justice communities, ignoring those communities most harshly affected by pollution. The Strategic Plan also ignores key criticisms of existing efforts at the EPA made by the Inspector General in 2004.

“At a time when we should be working to help the communities bearing the brunt of pollution problems, this administration is turning the idea of environmental justice on its head. By ignoring our minority and low-income communities the Bush Administration is reversing a commitment made to communities across our country,” Senator Kerry said. “It’s time the EPA starts listening to its own Inspector General, changes course and puts forth a workable solution to bring clean air and water to all our communities.”

“The Environmental Protection Agency’s strategy plan moves environmental justice and the efforts to help low-income communities in the wrong direction. I am concerned that if implemented, it would rollback environmental justice programs and worsen the health of vulnerable working class communities. I hope that the EPA will work with us to come up with a better plan,” said Rep. Hilda Solis, ranking Democrat on the House Environment and Hazardous Materials subcommittee.

“It is beyond irresponsible for the administration to suggest that this plan takes the necessary steps to improve the health and well-being of America’s most vulnerable,” said Rep. Hastings. “It isn’t that EPA doesn’t know what problems exist, it’s their willingness to do anything about it. Shame on them.”

Senator Durbin closed by noting, “Environmental justice should mean more protection, not less, for those Americans most affected by pollution. The Bush Administration continues to disregard years of evidence which show that low-income and minority communities are bearing an unfair burden of pollution in America. The Bush Administration needs to move forward with a plan to guarantee that all Americans live in a clean and safe environment.”

The Strategic Plan has also been criticized by dozens of health, civil rights, and environmental groups, including the American Lung Association, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, the National Hispanic Environmental Council, Latino Issues Forum, Earth Justice, and the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment.

Below is the text of the letter to EPA Administrator Johnson:

Dear Administrator Johnson:

We write to inform you of our concerns with the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) June 22, 2005 “Environmental Justice Strategic Plan Outline” and “Framework for Integrating Environmental Justice,” otherwise known as the “Strategic Plan.” We believe the Strategic Plan fails to address the real environmental justice problems facing our nation’s most polluted communities and violates Executive Order 12898 regarding Environmental Justice.

For decades, minority and underserved communities have been forced to live in close proximity to industrial zones, power plants, and toxic waste sites. The proximity to these facilities has jeopardized the health of these communities. For example, 5.5 million Latinos live within 10 miles of a coal powered plant, and 68 percent of all African Americans in the U.S. live within 30 miles of a coal powered plant, the distance within which the health impacts are most acute. In these communities Latinos are nearly 2.5 times more likely to develop asthma than whites and African Americans are also more than twice as likely to die from asthma as whites.

Unfortunately, the Strategic Plan would disregard race as a consideration for determining environmental justice. This is a significant departure from existing environmental justice policies and is in direct contradiction with the intent of the Executive Order. We believe it will do nothing to reduce the existing disparate impacts suffered by low-income and minority communities and may contribute to the future increase of these impacts.

The Strategic Plan also fails to identify the key recipients of environmental justice actions. In 2004 the Inspector General reported that “EPA’s ability to comply with the Order’s requirement in a consistent manner is impeded if it does not first identify the intended recipients of the environmental justice actions.” The EPA’s failure to identify the intended recipients in a manner that truly reflects environmental justice communities is ultimately another attempt to de-prioritize the importance of focusing on our nation’s most vulnerable populations. We reject any plan which does not clearly identify environmental justice communities and reject the reinterpretation of the Executive Order which this strategy supports.

We are also concerned about the comparative risk prioritization scheme created by the Strategic Plan. This scheme will require environmental justice issues to be prioritized solely at the national level, requiring the EPA to choose whether it is more important to focus on the prevalence of an issue such as cancer over an issue such as asthma. While we believe it is important to highlight the issues facing environmental justice communities broadly, we believe that policies should be modified to address the specific needs of each of these communities. We are concerned that an issues priority system would automatically de-prioritize those issues which are lower on the list.

We urge the EPA to seriously consider the failures identified by the Inspector General in 2004 and address these failures in future drafts of the Strategic Plan. The EPA needs to develop a Strategic Plan on Environmental Justice which will take real steps to combat the environmental injustices which continue to plague our minority and low-income communities. Sincerely,

HILDA L. SOLIS JOHN KERRY ALCEE L. HASTINGS RICHARD DURBIN NANCY PELOSI BARACK OBAMA STENY H. HOYER JOSEPH I. LIEBERMAN ROBERT MENENDEZ HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON JAMES CLYBURN RUSS FEINGOLD RAUL M. GRIJALVA GRACE F. NAPOLITANO BARBARA LEE EDDIE BERNICE JOHNSON TAMMY BALDWIN DONALD M. PAYNE CORRINE BROWN JOSE E. SERRANO MARCY KAPTUR MAURICE D. HINCHEY LLOYD DOGGETT SAM FARR GARY L. ACKERMAN ALLYSON Y. SCHWARTZ DORIS MATSUI JULIA CARSON CHARLES B. RANGEL MICHAEL M. HONDA JOHN LEWIS JIM MCDERMOTT NYDIA VELAZQUEZ ROBERT WEXLER TIM BISHOP ELIJAH CUMMINGS ROBERT A . BRADY LUIS V. GUTIERREZ JOSEPH CROWLEY XAVIER BECERRA LORETTA SANCHEZ EMANUEL CLEAVER CAROLYN MALONEY JANICE D. SCHAKOWSKY DENNIS J. KUCINICH JERROLD NADLER WM. LACY CLAY JAMES P. MCGOVERN HOWARD L. BERMAN EDWARD J. MARKEY MARK UDALL FRANK PALLONE DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ JIM DAVIS RUBEN E. HINOJOSA ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON CAROLYN KILPATRICK LINDA T. SANCHEZ CHRIS VAN HOLLEN EARL BLUMENAUER LYNN C. WOOLSEY BILL PASCRELL, JR. JOHN CONYERS, JR. JOHN W. OLVER GWEN MOORE GEORGE MILLER SHELLEY BERKLEY HAROLD E. FORD, JR. ROSA L. DELAURO ROBERT E. ANDREWS BETTY McCOLLUM DANNY K. DAVIS SHEILA JACKSON-LEE ROBERT C. SCOTT FORTNEY PETE STARK

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