EPA Falters on Commitment to Environmental Justice
by Matthew Madia, 11/7/2006
Less than two months after the Inspector General for the Environmental Protection Agency issued a report critical of the agency's commitment to environmental justice, EPA closes the doors of one of its regional offices for minority advocacy.
EPA Fails to Conduct Environmental Justice Reviews
In September, EPA's acting inspector general (IG), Bill A. Roderick, issued a report revealing that EPA had frequently failed to perform environmental justice reviews of its programs and regulations. In a survey of 15 regional and program offices, nine out of 15 responding administrators said they had not performed environmental justice reviews and 13 out of 15 claimed EPA had not directed them to do so. According to the IG, "though some offices may not be subject to an environmental justice review, the respondents expressed a need for further guidance to conduct reviews, including protocols, a framework, or additional directions. Until these program and regional offices perform environmental justice reviews, the Agency cannot determine whether its programs cause disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects on minority and low-income populations."
As a result of the report's findings, the IG recommended that EPA programs and regional offices evaluate which "programs, policies, and activities need environmental justice reviews" and to perform reviews to "determine whether the programs, policies, and activities may have a disproportionately high and adverse health or environmental impact on minority and low-income populations." The IG also recommended that EPA offices develop guidance for conducting environmental justice reviews and designate an environmental justice office to "compile the results of environmental justice reviews," and "recommend appropriate actions to review findings and make recommendations to the decisionmaking office's senior leadership."
EPA is required to perform environmental justice reviews under Executive Order 12898, Federal Actions To Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations, which states,
To the greatest extent practicable and permitted by law ... each Federal agency shall make achieving environmental justice part of its mission by identifying and addressing, as appropriate, disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of its programs, policies, and activities on minority populations and low-income populations in the United States.
Signed Feb. 11, 1994, E.O. 12898 came in response to findings that minority and low-income populations were disproportionately impacted by environmental harms. Blacks are 79 percent more likely than whites to live in polluted areas, according to a December 2005 analysis by the Associated Press.
EPA Closes Doors of Northwest Minority Advocacy Office
Less than two months after agreeing to the recommendations of the IG, EPA announced that it will close its Region 10 environmental justice office, which serves Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Alaska. The Office of Civil Rights and Environmental Justice assists minority and low-income groups with environmental clean-up, advocacy and education. According to local environmental groups, the office has been instrumental in providing information and support to the community. Region 10 will be the first EPA regional office without dedicated staff to address environmental justice issues.