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Joe Manchin, Chuck Schumer, Joe Biden

President Joe Biden, center, hands the pen used to sign the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 into law to Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) at the White House on August 16, 2022 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

EPA's Environmental Justice Office 'Won't Make Up for' Manchin Deal, Campaigner Says

"We've seen a lot of structural changes on environmental justice in the Biden, Obama and Clinton administrations, but we need to see the results," said Wes Gobar of the Movement for Black Lives.

Julia Conley

Climate campaigners and other progressives on Sunday praised the Biden administration's announcement that it is establishing a new environmental justice office at the Environmental Protection Agency—but at least one critic noted that the office's work will not cancel out the damage done by the so-called "permitting reform" bill being pushed by Sen. Joe Manchin.

"We've seen a lot of structural changes on environmental justice in the Biden, Obama and Clinton administrations, but we need to see the results," Wes Gobar, an organizer with the Movement for Black Lives, told The New York Times.

According to EPA Administrator Michael Regan, the Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights (OEJECR) will invest heavily in ensuring residents of areas plagued by decades of industrial pollution live in a healthier environment.

With about 200 staffers and a director who will be confirmed by the U.S. Senate, the office will oversee the distribution of billions of dollars included in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) for monitoring air quality near schools and impacted neighborhoods and cleaning up pollution in those areas. The OEJECR will also have a budget of $100 million.

Communities that could benefit from the funds include those in so-called "Cancer Alley," between Baton Rouge and New Orleans in Louisiana, where chemical plants stand near residential neighborhoods and cancer prevalence is 44% higher than the national rate in some areas.

Areas affected by redlining, where largely Black, Latino, and low-income neighborhoods were targeted for development by pollution-causing industries, may also benefit. One 2017 study found that Black Americans are nearly four times as likely as white people to die from exposure to pollution.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) issued a round of applause on Twitter following Regan's announcement.

"This is a big step to act on climate in our most vulnerable communities," said environmental legal advocacy group Earthjustice.

But Gobar noted that Regan's announcement came as Manchin seeks to pass his energy infrastructure bill, which would make it easier for fossil fuel companies to complete projects like the Mountain Valley Pipeline in Virginia and the right-wing Democratic senator's home state of West Virginia.

The White House said last week that President Joe Biden is "committed to the deal" between Manchin and party leaders which resulted in the bill in exchange for Manchin's support of the IRA.

"This deal exchanges the health of Black lives across the country in exchange for fossil fuel profits," Gobar told the Times. "And [the OEJECR] won't make up for this side deal—for cutting the federal government's ability to protect Black communities."

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