Environmental Justice Leaders Speak at White House Forum

The White House sponsored its first Environmental Justice Forum on Wednesday. We’ve already covered the remarks of Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, one of five Cabinet secretaries to speak. (“If Jobs are the Priority, What’s Environmental Justice?“)

The White House also hailed the more “than 100 environment justice leaders from across the country [who] attended the day-long event.” What did they have to say?

Following remarks by Attorney General Eric Holder, a panel discussion was held entitled, “Legal Framework for Advancing Environmental Justice Session.” Audience members commented and posed questions. Excerpts:

Robert Bullard, Clark Atlanta University (audio):

I think it’s important to understand that while the nation and our policymakers talk about going green and clean energy, communities like Corpus Christi and other communities are still being bombarded with dirty industry. [Applause] As the nation goes green, communities of color are getting, are being pushed on with dirty coal-fired power plants that are on the drawing boards, that are being proposed, as we talk about renewables and green. As we talk about green energy, TVA and other power companies are pushing toxic coal ash in communities of color and low-income communities. This is real, while we’re talking about this stuff.

Sacoby Wilson, University of South Carolina (audio):

I think EJ is too nice of a term. Can we use the “impact of environmental slavery?” Can we use “the impact of environmental oppression?” Who’ve been bombarded, as Dr. Bullard said, who’ve been burdened by these issues? What legal frameworks are going to be really be implemented to take these administrative complaints that are backlogged right now, that haven’t been addressed in the last 10 years or so, 12 years, and what other sort of legal frameworks going beyond sort of the national frameworks that we have, using some of the human rights frameworks that are out there, too, because we’re not even talking about that body of law that’s out there that would allow us to really get these issues. These are human rights issues. It’s not just civil rights, it’s human rights. So we have to really to fight environmental oppression, to fight environmental genocide, to fight environmental slavery, we need to take Title VI [of the Civil Rights Act of 1964)], this executive order [1994’s Executive Order (E.O.) 12898], this human rights frameworks out there to really get at these issues.

Beverly Wright, Deep South Center for Environmental Justice at Dillard University, New Orleans (audio):

I just wanted to raise something that’s of real concern for those of us who live in the Gulf Coast, but specifically, to the city of New Orleans, where we’re watching what we call “disaster capitalism” really take hold and is oppressing our people in all kinds of ways, but specifically, as it relates to environmental pollution.

We’re now being faced with having to fight a gasification plant that they want to put of course in the neighborhood that’s 85 percent African-American, right under the high rise, where we hear there could be vapor plumes and all kinds of other things happening. We’re starting to feel like we might have a hard time fighting this. We’ve asked EPA, for example, to look into the permitting process and see if we can get some response from them on whether or not, you know, this thing is safe. All of our research basically shows that it isn’t, but there’s so little research out there, that it’s almost as if EPA can’t make a statement because they don’t have data. So we become the guinea pigs for something that’s extremely dangerous.

We’ve transcribed their full remarks here. The White House has posted video of the segment at YouTube here.

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