Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Government Report Shows EPA Fails Minority and Low-Income Communities Public Health at Risk

The Office of the Inspector General (IG) released a report in which it found that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is failing to conduct environmental justice reviews of their programs, policies and activities. The report found that the EPA "cannot determine whether its programs cause disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects on communities of color and low-income populations."

MSNBC reports that "The report, dated Sept. 18 and released today by Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., does not appear on the agency's home page."

USA Today adds, "But the home page does tout "National Pollution Prevention Week: September 18-24": "Reducing pollution before it ever gets to the environment is one of the most important ways to protect the environment. Learn ways individuals, families, and companies can prevent pollution and conserve resources.""

In its response to the report, the EPA said the "agency has made concerns about environmental justice an integral part of its activities as it enforces environmental rules and issues new regulations."
Congresswoman Hilda L. Solis said, "This report is yet more proof that the Administration and its senior officials have ignored their responsibility to protect the health and welfare of working families across this county. The continued failure of this Administration and its senior agency officials to protect the health of low income and minority communities is unacceptable. They must be held accountable."

Senator Kerry said, "This report is further evidence that minority and low income neighborhoods that have become America's industrial dumping grounds and this administration couldn't care less. We will go to the mat on this. Simply put, the EPA needs to start doing its job and end this national disgrace."

Senator Durbin said, "Once again, the Bush Administration has fallen short of meeting its obligations to millions of people living in some of the most economically disadvantaged areas in the country. The EPA needs to live up to its obligation to protect all Americans -- not just those in the upper tax brackets -- and implement the steps necessary to combat the environmental injustices present in our minority and low-income communities."

The IG found that EPA program and regional offices have not performed environmental justice reviews in accordance with Executive Order 12898 which was signed by then-President Clinton in 1994. Sixty percent of responding program EPA officials reported that they had not performed environmental justice reviews and 87 percent reported EPA senior management had not requested them to perform such reviews. Eighty percent reported that they did not know how to do an environmental justice assessment and that protocols, framework or additional direction would be useful.

The report comes just one year after Solis, Kerry, Durbin and 75 other Members of Congress expressed concern about EPA's proposal to delete race as a consideration for determining environmental justice, and just six months after the White House deleted evidence showing a proposed rule on soot could hurt low-income populations and may have a substantial impact on the life expectancy in the United States.

For decades, industrial zones, refineries, and power plants have jeopardized the health of low-income and minority communities. In Southern California, 71 percent of African-Americans and 50 percent of Latinos live in non-attainments areas. Nationally, people of color are three times more likely to be hospitalized or die from asthma and other respiratory illnesses linked to air pollutions.


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