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Sept. 21, 2020 by Rebecca Bratspies

Environmental Justice Is Not Un-American

Recently, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler spoke to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the EPA's founding. He used the opportunity to reiterate the agency's commitment to its “straightforward” mission to “protect human health and the environment.” He also emphasized that the agency’s mission meant “ensuring that all Americans – regardless of their zip code – have clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and clean land to live, work, and play upon.”

Why did Wheeler refer to zip code? Because decades of research have documented that pollution, and its adverse health effects, are not spread equally across the country. Instead, polluting industry tends to be concentrated in certain zip codes that, due to a history of racist redlining and housing discrimination, are predominantly the home of Black and Brown Americans.

The groundbreaking 1987 study Toxic Waste and Race in the United States first documented that race is the most significant predictor of living near a toxic facility. Over the ensuing three decades, evidence for this connection between America’s racial geography and pollution has grown even stronger. Indeed, EPA’s own researchers recently documented that race, rather than poverty is the strongest predictor for pollution exposure …

Sept. 17, 2020 by Joel Mintz, Victor Flatt
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This op-ed was originally published by The Revelator. Reprinted under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0).

The COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in a wave of worrisome and needless regulatory relaxations that have increased pollution across the United States. Recent reporting by the Associated Press and other outlets has documented more than 3,000 pandemic-based requests from polluters to state agencies and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for waivers of environmental requirements. Numerous state governments, with the tacit encouragement of the EPA, went along with many of those requests. All too often, those waivers — requested, ostensibly, to protect American workers from exposure to the coronavirus — were granted with little or no review, notwithstanding the risks the resulting emissions posed to public health and the environment.

EPA invited this wave of waivers back in March, announcing it would relax its enforcement upon request, under cover of …

Sept. 9, 2020 by Matthew Freeman
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CPR Board President Rob Verchick is out with a new episode of the Connect the Dots podcast, the first in a new season focused on climate justice. As he puts it, "We’re looking at people living in the crosshairs of climate change, those disproportionately carrying the burden of the world and suffering on a daily basis."

As part of Rob's exploration of the issue in this episode, we hear from three experts on the topic, each with a different vantage point. CPR Member Scholar Maxine Burkett is a Professor of Law at the William S. Richardson School of Law, University of Hawai'i at Manoa. Leslie Fields is the Sierra Club's Senior Director of Environmental Justice and Healthy Communities. Mychal Johnson is co-founder of South Bronx Unite, a coalition of residents, organizations, and allies confronting policies that perpetuate harm and building support for viable community-driven solutions …

Aug. 13, 2020 by Amanda Cohen Leiter
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This post was originally published by American Rivers. Reprinted with permission.

I have a confession: I didn’t used to “get” environmental justice. I admit that not as an inadequate apology to those of you who have lived with environmental injustice or dedicated your lives to fighting it, but instead as an invitation to others to join my journey toward greater understanding.

I have cared about the environment for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I explored Shenandoah National Park with my parents and brother. Since high school, my favorite pastimes have involved outdoor adventures. I still enjoy scaring my mom by picking up snakes (sorry mom!); I revel in the feeling of stretching out in a sleeping bag after a long day on a trail; I love teaching my kids to climb rocks and roll kayaks. I can’t remember a time when …

Aug. 12, 2020 by Sidney Shapiro
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This post was originally published by the Yale Journal on Regulation's Notice & Comment blog. Reprinted with permission.

In 1958, civil rights leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Andrew Young, met in New York with Reverend Everett Parker, who was the Director of the Office of Communications of the United Church of Christ. The Office was an advocacy arm of the church, whose members’ commitment to civil rights dated back to colonial times. The civil rights leaders sought the Office’s assistance because of their concern about the biased coverage of the civil rights movement by Southern television stations. After years of litigation, the meeting led to two decisions in the D.C. Circuit (United Church of Christ I & United Church of Christ II) that blocked efforts by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to relicense WLBT, a Jacksonville, Mississippi television station, which had …

July 13, 2020 by Darya Minovi
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Nine months ago, residents of the Chicago suburb of Willowbrook, Illinois, scored a major victory in their fight to prevent emissions of a dangerous gas, ethylene oxide, into the air they breathe. In fact, their victory appeared to have ripple effects in other communities. But like so many other aspects of life in the midst of a pandemic, things changed in a hurry.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classified ethylene oxide, or EtO, as a human carcinogen in December 2016. According to the agency, exposure via inhalation increases the likelihood of developing certain cancers and other respiratory and neurological ailments. EPA has not established a reference dose, or maximum acceptable dose, for EtO, but the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry’s (ATSDR) Cancer Risk Evaluation Guide (CREG) estimates concentrations of a carcinogen at which there is an elevated risk of one …

July 1, 2020 by Alice Kaswan
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When California adopted its first-in-the-nation regulations requiring truck electrification on June 25, the state took a step (or drove a mile) toward reducing pollution in the nation's most vulnerable communities. The new regulation exemplifies a key feature of California's approach: its integration of climate goals, clean air goals, and, at least in this case, environmental justice goals.

According to the press release from the California Air Resources Board (CARB), trucks in California contribute 80 percent of the state's diesel pollution and 70 percent of its smog-causing pollution while constituting less than 7 percent of registered vehicles. The rule's environmental assessment explains that particulate matter from diesel engines is responsible "for approximately 60 percent of the current estimated cancer risk for background ambient air." These risks are highest near freight hubs, including "ports, rail yards and distribution centers." And these areas, in turn, are often in …

June 16, 2020 by Katlyn Schmitt
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On June 9, the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change held a remote hearing, “Pollution and Pandemics: COVID-19’s Disproportionate Impact on Environmental Justice Communities.” The Center for Progressive Reform, joined by Fair Farms, Sentinels of Eastern Shore Health (SESH), and the Sussex Health and Environmental Network submitted a fact sheet to subcommittee members outlining the impacts of COVID-19 on the Delmarva Peninsula, along with a number of recommendations for building a more sustainable model for the region.

The area is home to a massive poultry industry, hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. We addressed several of the most severe problems in our fact sheet, including the following.

Public Health Harms from 'Depopulation'

Because of pandemic-driven staffing shortages, approximately 2 million chickens in the region, likely more, have been killed without having been processed into consumer-ready meat. According to the industry, once …

June 10, 2020 by Alice Kaswan
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Black lives matter. As we contemplate the scope of structural racism, we find that “Black Lives Matter” needs to be said over and over again. We say it as we push for policing that protects rather than threatens. And we can keep saying it. Like when we talk about having available, affordable health care. Having access to technology and broadband, a quiet space, and time when the classroom becomes off limits due to a pandemic or climate-driven extreme weather. Finding an affordable place to live and landlords who don’t discriminate. Finding meaningful work and getting a promotion. Finding fresh food. Getting respect.

And then there’s the environment. We still see stark disparities in exposures to environmental harms in our country. For example, communities of color are more likely to live in areas with higher levels of air pollution. For decades, people of color have been …

April 21, 2020 by Brian Gumm
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On April 17, CPR Board President Rob Verchick joined EPA enforcement chief Susan Bodine and other panelists for an American Bar Association webinar on environmental protections and enforcement during the COVID-19 pandemic. During the event, Bodine expressed "surprise" that the agency's pandemic enforcement policy was so roundly criticized, but she shouldn't have been caught off guard by those critiques.

As Verchick noted during the discussion, "The problem with [weakening monitoring and pollution reporting requirements] is that fenceline communities have no idea where to look. They have no idea if the facilities in their backyards are…taking a holiday from pollution requirements or not."

Verchick added, "Companies don't know what their competitors are doing, and so now you've got companies who might be thinking, oh, well, my competing facilities, maybe they're taking advantage of this and I must, too, because nobody knows who's taking advantage …

CPR HOMEPAGE
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
Sept. 21, 2020

Environmental Justice Is Not Un-American

Sept. 17, 2020

Pandemic Spawns Dangerous Relaxation of Environmental Regulations

Sept. 9, 2020

They Can't Breathe!

Aug. 13, 2020

My Growing Understanding of Environmental Justice

Aug. 12, 2020

Administrative Procedures and Racism

July 13, 2020

The Peril of Ethylene Oxide: Replacing One Public Health Crisis with Another

July 1, 2020

California Keeps on Truckin'