Bush's EPA Fails Minorities

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has failed to provide adequate protection to minorities and low-income families who are disproportionately affected by pollution, according to a report released last week by EPA's Inspector General (IG).

The IG's report concludes that an Executive Order on Environmental Justice, signed by President Clinton 10 years ago, has yet to be adequately carried out.

Moreover, the report discloses that the Bush Administration reinterpreted the order two years ago -- without authority to do so -- to shift emphasis away from the very populations the order was written to protect. The administration then defended its action by stating that it would provide environmental justice to "everyone."

The IG's report dismissed this defense as misleading. "We believe the Executive Order was specifically issued to provide environmental justice to minority and/or low-income populations due to concerns that those populations had been disproportionately impacted by environmental risk."

The report points out that providing justice to "everyone" was already the EPA's mission prior to the 1994 order.

The report further finds that the EPA has yet to develop "a clear vision or comprehensive strategic plan, and has not established values, goals, expectations, and performance measurements" for integrating environmental justice into its policies. As a result, any protections provided to minorities and low-income families from environmental hazards have been spotty and solely dependent upon regional EPA initiatives.

"After 10 years, there is an urgent need for the Agency to standardize environmental justice definitions, goals, and measurements for the consistent implementation and integration of environmental justice at EPA," the report states.

Minority and low-income families often suffer greater exposure to environmental hazards than other populations because industrial plants tend be situated in or near low-income neighborhoods.

One example of why these neighborhoods need special protection is a Bush administration plan to allow coal-fired power plants to buy "credits" from cleaner plants instead of reducing their own mercury emissions. Recent hearings on the Bush plan in several U.S. cities brought out residents concerned that they would be further victimized if they lived near a plant that purchased credits instead of cleaning up.

After a hearing in Philadelphia, The Philadelphia Inquirer cited a testimonial from Ms. Mable Mallard of South Philadelphia, a resident "who gauges when to venture outside based on which way the wind is blowing the pollution from the seven nearby smokestacks."

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