The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Kate Hornyan (202) 265-7337

EPA Retreats from Environmental Justice

Convoluted Guidance Paralyzes Decisions as Priority Pollution Efforts Ebb


Rather than directly confront environmental justice challenges, the
Environmental Protection Agency has issued internal guidance that is so
convoluted and vague that it will stymie effective action, according to
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). At the same
time, EPA is allowing affirmative approaches to relieving the air
pollution burden on the urban poor to languish.

In late July, EPA
released its "Interim Guidance on Considering Environmental Justice
During the Development of An Action" which proclaims that it "empowers
decision-makers" to "integrate EJ [environmental justice] into the
fabric of EPA's" actions. The actual guidance, however, lays out a
stultifying multi-step process steeped in terms that seem designed to
encourage inaction. For example, a flow-chart maps out 29 possible
steps for "incorporating environmental justice" including sphinx-like
admonitions such as -

  • "Identify whether EJ concerns have been addressed. Be prepared to answer 3 core questions." and;
  • "If
    applicable, address outreach, consider highlighting EJ options for
    comment, and address significant EJ issues in Action Memo."

new guidance imprisons environmental justice inside a bureaucratic
Rubik's Cube that will confound even the most ardent EPA employee,"
stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting Administrator Lisa
Jackson has declared environmental justice one of her priority issues.
"This continues the pattern at EPA on environmental justice of putting
process over substance."

By contrast, this June the EPA Office of
Inspector General slammed EPA for a decade-long failure to implement
national urban air toxics control plans, designed to alleviate a major
public health threat to the nation's urban centers with concentrations
of disadvantaged populations. The Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990
required EPA to develop a strategy to reduce air toxics emissions in
urban areas, particularly from small stationary sources. While the
agency was required to issue new urban emissions standards in 2000 for
these smaller local sources, such as cars, dry cleaners and gas
stations, EPA failed to follow through. Yet EPA figures show acute
risks from these local sources - potentially causing cancer in one in
28,000 Americans with two million residents in areas where the lifetime
risk was one in 10,000 or greater.

"Why can't EPA make direct
action to reduce the pollution load on urban poor a priority?" asked
Ruch, decrying the lack of concrete results from EPA environmental
justice efforts. "What good is a rhetorical commitment to environmental
justice if our poorest citizens remain disproportionately exposed to
toxins by virtue of where they live?"

Follow (if you can) the 29 simple steps for "Incorporating Environmental Justice" at EPA

Read the draft EPA Environmental Justice Guidance

Look at the 2010 Inspector General report on urban air toxics

See how bureaucracy trumps environmental justice at EPA

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.