President Obama made headlines by meeting with CEOs earlier this week, offering a hint of an Administration becoming friendlier toward business and pursuing a “path that will lead to economic success.” Attendees regarded the discussions as a positive exchange about jobs and the economy.

Yet at the same time, the White House was hosting its “White House Forum on Environmental Justice” with an implicit anti-business bias and calls for economic redistribution. Private-sector jobs were not really an issue.

Five cabinet secretaries participated, and the Administration officials were for the most part recondite, vague or bureaucratically uplifting in their comments. From the multi-agency news release:

“Low-income and minority communities often shoulder an unacceptable amount of pollution in this country, diminishing their economic potential and threatening the health of millions of American families,” said Nancy Sutley, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. “The White House Forum underlines the commitment across the Administration to integrating environmental justice into the missions of Federal agencies, and ensuring this really is a country of equal opportunity for all.”

The trouble with “environmental justice” is that it means whatever the activists and grievance groups want it to mean. For some, it’s compensation because their ethnic groups or communities were exposed to pollution, for others it’s elevating their particular environmental cause over others, as the claim, “Environmental justice is climate justice.” It might be federal direction of local urban planning, more funding for mass transit and bicycles or promoting “green jobs.”

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said he was troubled because he didn’t see enough minorities at Yellowstone National Park, so apparently “environmental justice” also means subsidies for travel budgets to visit Wyoming. (Audio clip)

And if the low-income and minority communities shoulder an unacceptable burden of pollution, of course it’s business that causes that pollution. “Environmental justice” then becomes a bludgeon with which to beat up the private sector.

In the hour or so of the afternoon discussions we listened to Wednesday, we heard class- and race-based pleas for federal money and programs, along with unsubtle accusations of racism. One attendee railed that after Hurricane Katrina, “The recovery process has been so racist in design, in every area,” and, “They’re trying to kill us.”

This isn’t necessarily surprising rhetoric to have come the “environmental justice” crowd, but it’s alarming to hear at the White House. And it’s just weird to hear Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security, describe her department’s focus on environmental justice and climate adaptation. (Audio, our transcript):

So as we look at climate change, the climate change that we are in, and think about the environmental phenomenon that is happening in the course of our own lives, we translate that into increased drought. We translate that into increased likelihood of wildfires, particularly catastrophic fires in the West, we translate that into more category four and five hurricanes, and that affects communities around the gulf but also up and down the Atlantic seaboard and the Pacific as well, and other natural occurrences that are affected by changes in climate.

Changes in climate really translate into huge environmental changes that have impacts on communities and also on national security, because they raise not only the issues of making sure that we are taking into account and caring for the most at-risk populations, but that we are also looking at and planning for the potentiality of mass migrations, demographic changes, patterns, concentrations of economic assets, population growth in different areas, deteriorating infrastructure. All of this gets knit together under this umbrella of climate change and environmental adaptation.

That’s an expansive, expensive agenda, isn’t it? We thought Congress formed the Department of Homeland Security to more effectively address imminent threats to the American people, priorities like fighting terrorism, controlling our borders, and handling security at our ports and airports. Turns out the Department is instead working on EVERYTHING!

The Obama Administration talks about policies to promote growth and job creation at every turn, this week embracing private-sector companies as partners. Yet at the same time the White House sponsored a conference that evinced deep skepticism if not hostility toward business while endorsing the federal government as the ultimate actor on every possible economic issue. At best, that’s a muddled message, and it sure doesn’t look like a “path toward economic success.”

* Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, Secretary of Homeland Security Napolitano, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, as well as Attorney General Eric Holder and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.

UPDATE (11:25 p.m.): Chris Horner previewed the forum at the Spectator blog, “Van Jones Lives on in Obama White House,” with the full agenda of the day’s sessions. And many thanks to Michelle Malkin for blogging about this post.

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