Tag: environmental justice

What’s This About ‘Environmental Justice,’ Secretary Napolitano?

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano testifies Thursday before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee on her agency’s Fiscal Year 2012 budget request. Perhaps a committee member might inquire about her remarks last December at a White House forum on “environmental justice,” in which Secretary Napolitano declared the infinitely malleable principles to be a guide for her agency.

She said:

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.

The 11-page budget summary makes no mention of spending on “environmental justice” programs, and indeed, we found no use of the term at all in the entire FY2012 budget document from OMB.

Still, it might be productive to delve into her view of the agency’s responsibilities with respect to global warming, “environmental justice,” demographic change and “at-risk populations.” A good question could be: Shouldn’t homeland security be your only priority?

Two Shopfloor blog posts from Dec. 18, 2010:
At the Environmental Justice Forum: Give Us Lawyers!
Environmental Justice Leaders Speak at White House Forum

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For Every Little Sparrow that Falls, the EPA

Too many people think the Environmental Protection Agency is just a power-hungry bureaucracy full of people who want to regulate productive economic activity into submission. No, no, no! The EPA is so much more than just seizing control of carbon dioxide or undermining the rule of law by revoking already granted mine permits.

It’s a trusted adviser on all your local parking and housing concerns, as in, “EPA Offers Proven Solutions to Support Sustainable Community Goals“:

EPA will work with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to select 20 participating communities through a competitive process. During the day-long session, participants will explore proven sustainability tools, including zoning code reviews, walkability assessments, parking policy analysis, climate action planning, and commuter benefits. Each community will select a specific tool to focus on and also learn about general smart growth development strategies.

It’s the wise, well-informed commentator on local shopping needs in Hawaii. “U.S. EPA applauds Maui and Kauai for decision to ban plastic shopping bags“:

01/27/11) HONOLULU – The US Environmental Protection Agency today applauds the Mayors, County Councils and residents of Maui and Kauai counties in Hawaii for enacting restrictions banning plastic shopping bags – reducing their waste and protecting the environment in a single action.

“The leadership shown by the Counties of Maui and Kauai in banning these bags will help keep their environments pristine,” said Jared Blumenfeld, EPA’s Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest.

It’s the agency that balms the wounds of America’s democracy with cash, i.e., “Environmental Justice Grants Now Available.”

Environmental justice means the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people, regardless of race or income, in the environmental decision-making process. Environmental justice issues often involve multiple sources of contamination, like pollution from several industrial facilities within one neighborhood, environmental hazards at the workplace or home, or contamination resulting from the consumption of fish or other foods.

Oh, just like pollution, except with a class consciousness.

What doesn’t the EPA do?

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A Loophole Big Enough to Drive Environmental Justice Through

From the President’s Jan. 18 executive order, “Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review,” Section 1, General Principles of Regulation:

c)  In applying these principles, each agency is directed to use the best available techniques to quantify anticipated present and future benefits and costs as accurately as possible.  Where appropriate and permitted by law, each agency may consider (and discuss qualitatively) values that are difficult or impossible to quantify, including equity, human dignity, fairness, and distributive impacts.

Thus, any rational cost-benefit analysis can be tossed out the window if Executive Branch agencies prefer to make their decisions on subjective political and ideological reasons. Distributive impacts? You can justify the entire  program of the “environmental justice” movement using that rationale.

The EPA is already headed down that capricious regulatory path. Glenn Lammi of the Washington Legal Foundation recently explained how the EPA could circumvent the regulatory process to push the anti-growth and redistributionist priorities of the environmental justice advocates. From “Activists Work to Inject ‘Environmental Justice’ Concept into All EPA Actions and Beyond“:

 The issue injects a touchy subject into the controversial realm of environmental law and policy.  Invoking the broad and amorphous concept of environmental justice (“EJ”) – which equates “disparate impact” (rather than intentional acts) with discrimination – affords activists a highly effective new way to demonize free enterprise and demagogue the building of new business facilities and the award of pollution emission permits….

As explained in a [July 2010] cover memo to EPA employees, the Interim Guidance on Considering Environmental Justice During the Development of an Action is a “step-by-step guide [to] help EPA staff determine whether actions raise possible environmental justice concerns,” which will allow EPA to “explicitly integrate environmental justice considerations into the fabric of EPA’s process for developing actions,” according to a  which accompanied the guidance.  Agency “actions” include, “rules, policy statements, risk assessments, guidance documents, models that may be used in future rulemakings, and strategies that are related to regulations.”  In other words, essentially everything that EPA does on a daily basis.  The document’s two sections are a thorough roadmap on how EPA bureaucrats can weave a seemingly infinite number of EJ “concerns” into their  decisions, moves which can create a great deal of discomfort for regulatory targets challenging EPA future actions.

Because, unless until the courts act, the EPA would be the ultimate authority deciding what’s fair, equitable or respectful of human dignity. And creation of private-sector jobs? Too many negative distributive impacts!

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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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If Jobs are the Priority, What’s Environmental Justice?

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): (continue reading…)

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Justice on the Side of Power, Power on the Side of Justice

Needed electricity? Good jobs? Economic growth in a struggling area of Virginia?

Old Dominion Electric Cooperative’s proposed Cypress Creek Power Station in Dendron, Va., would accomplish all those good things. According to ODEC’s thorough website for the project, www.cypresscreekpowerstation.com (and fact sheet), the project entails constructing a one- or two-unit base load electric generation facility yielding 750 MW to 1,500 MW of power by 2016. Peak construction would put more than 2,000 people to work, and permanent operations would require 200 full-time employees, with potentially 160 being local hires.

The plant would be fueled by coal and biomass, i.e., wood waste. Of course, coal invites reactive opposition — but mostly from outside the immediate region. (Driving through that part of Southeastern Virginia last weekend, we saw many more signs supporting the plant than opposing.)

The Smithfield Times covered the Surry County Planning Commission’s five-hour hearing Monday, leading the week’s paper with the story, “Marathon hearing on coal plant“:

Many of the plant’s outspoken opponents were from outside Surry County. A sizeable number were students at The College of William and Mary and environmentalists with groups such as the Sierra Club.

Some plant supporters complained about the high number of non-Surry residents at the meeting.

“I’m sick and tired of outsiders coming in here and telling us what to do,” Surry resident Barbara Seward said.

She and other supporters said that the environmental and health risks were being exaggerated, that they trusted ODEC to be a good corporate citizen, and that the community in a time of economic hardship.

Of course, you don’t have to be a local resident to exercise your First Amendment rights, but the outside opposition still seems arrogant and elitist. Critics show no sensitivity to important “environmental justice” issues.

You know, “environmental justice?” It’s usually the rallying cry of those who claim businesses construct operations in poor or minority communities to exploit the communities’ powerlessness. It’s divisive class warfare, often part of a shakedown for government largess, and unfortunately given a federal imprimatur going back to the George H.W. Bush Administration in 1992 and most lately reaffirmed by President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency. But since the slogan is what counts for argumentation these days …

  • It’s a just cause to support jobs, strong communities and the supply of reliable baseload electricity.
  • OEDC is not-for-profit, member-owned cooperative, meeting the public’s demand for power.
  • We know the Sierra Club’s goal is a world with no coal, making electricity more expensive and hurting low-income ratepayers.
  • But who in the hell do the pampered kids at William and Mary think they are?

The conclusion is clear: It’s the supporters of the Cypress Creek Power Station who have “environmental justice” on their side.

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Card Check: Rep. Solis and the Labor Secretary’s Post

News coverage and commentary:

From Tapped, the blog of The American Prospect, a post by Harold Meyerson, an editor of the magazine and the Washington Post’s left-wing op-ed columnist, “Hilda Solis is Great.”

What does Rep. Hilda Solis, Barack Obama’s selection for secretary of labor, bring to the job? Only a record of passionate commitment to working people, a high level of political smarts, and some genuine displays of raw guts that could make her a star of American liberalism. …[snip]

While in the legislature, Solis also became the chief proponent in state government for the environmental justice movement that was bubbling up in various working-class communities around the state, steering to passage bills that reduced airborne carcinogens in industrial areas and that created parkland alongside the rivers that run through some of Los Angeles’ poorest neighborhoods. She took a leading role in promoting domestic violence awareness in the state’s communities of color….[snip]

In the House, Solis has continued to champion labor causes, immigrants’ rights, women’s health and environmental protections. She also worked closely with Rahm Emanuel in recruiting Democratic House candidates from the Southwest and Latino-dominated districts, so she brings to her new job a strong relationship with Obama’s incoming chief-of-staff. Now, she’s in the key position to promote the Employee Free Choice Act, which seems likely to be the most contentious issue on Obama’s agenda. But Solis has never been deterred by controversy.

 From The Plank, The New Republic’s blog, “A Secret Weapon For Obama’s Labor Secretary“:

Solis seems like a good choice for a labor movement that wants to see funding shifted from union oversight programs to efforts like conducting the required number of mine safety inspections, and restarting surveys of workers in vulnerable industries on issues like proper overtime payment. While Solis’s support for labor legislation like EFCA will earn her points in the labor community, Samuels says that shifts within the department, and the appointment of agency heads who are dedicated to the issues, could produce significant changes as well. Having a new labor secretary who knows her way around a red pen, a budget, and management principles could be a promising start.

 

UPDATE: (5 p.m.): SEIU President Andy Stern gives her a rave review at TPM:

“It’s extraordinary,” SEIU president Andy Stern said in an interview with us a few moments ago. “On every issue that’s important to us, she has stood up for an America where everyone’s hard work is valued and rewarded.”

 

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