EPA Showcase Community Funds Never Reach Communities

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

EPA Showcase Community Funds Never Reach Communities

Environmental Justice $ Limited to EPA Regional Offices in Bureaucratic Shuffle

WASHINGTON - Two days after issuing a press release touting its "Environmental
Justice Showcase Communities" initiative, the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency sent an internal "clarification" that funds are not
meant for target communities, according to an e-mail released today by
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).  Instead, the
money will be split among EPA regional offices.  

The
episode raises doubts about the substance behind vows by Obama
appointees to meaningfully revive environmental justice policy launched
under the Clinton administration to address inequitable pollution
impacts and environmental burdens afflicting disadvantaged communities,
racial and ethnic minorities.  

In the November 17, 2009 EPA news release, "Administrator Lisa P.
Jackson announced a national initiative to address environmental
justice challenges in 10 communities": Bridgeport (CT), Staten Island
(NY), Washington, D.C., Jacksonville (FL), Milwaukee (WI), Port Arthur
(TX), Kansas City (KS and MO), Salt Lake City (UT), Los Angeles (CA),
and Yakima (WA).  The release strongly implies that the $1 million in
Showcase Community funds would actually go into the targeted
communities, concluding with:

 
"Since 1994, EPA has provided more than $32 million in general funding
to more than 1,100 community-based organizations."

On
November 19, 2009, Kent Benjamin, Associate Director of the EPA Office
of Environmental Justice (OEJ), sent an e-mail to agency officials
citing "misrepresentations in the media" and "confusion" that required
"points of clarification," including:

  • "The
    EJ Showcase Communities Project is NOT a GRANT program.  It is a
    reprogramming of funds from OEJ Headquarters to the regional EJ program
    efforts."
  • Merits of community selection are murky:
    "There is concern and curiosity about how the project locations were
    selected.  I would encourage you to either include the description of
    your decision making process in your implementation plan or attach it
    to the previously completed plan" and
  • Planned
    accomplishments remain unclear: "OEJ and EJ Showcase Communities
    priorities team will provide feedback on proposed funds usage to
    encourage consistency among the range of possible uses."

"Contrary to the official spin, not a dime of this environmental
justice funding is guaranteed to reach a single Showcase Community,"
stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that EPA failed to
issue a clarifying news release. "This program suggests that EPA still
operates under the paternalistic attitude that it knows what is best
for neighborhoods suffering from past failures of pollution control."

In her seminal statement of the central role of environmental justice this July, Administrator Jackson said:

"In
the years ahead, I want to see a full-scale revitalization of what we
do and how we think about environmental justice.  This is not an issue
we can afford to relegate to the margins.  It has to be part of our
thinking in every decision we make....My friends, the EPA is once again
guided by a broad vision of public health protection and environmental
preservation. Environmental justice is central to that vision."

"Despite
the rhetoric, environmental justice remains on the periphery of EPA
decision-making," added Ruch. "Too much environmental justice activity
at EPA thus far has been more process but no product - and certainly
too little real support for communities bearing the brunt of
environmental injustice."

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See the EPA press release touting Showcase Communities
 

Read EPA's "clarification"

Look at Administrator Jackson's 7/21/09 speech to the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council

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Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.

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